Ah, the NHL All-Star Skills Competition, that incomparable showcase of jaw-dropping hockey talent, where reputations are built and legends are made.
And what better place to revive the event after last season’s COVID-19 layoff than the glamorous and flashy Las Vegas Strip?
The hockey in the desert is going very well. Ask Auston Matthews – he’ll be there!
The skills competition has long been a fixture for hockey fans, an annual chance to see their favorite players compete against other big names in the league. But if you’re new to the program (or just need a refresher on what to expect), we’re here to help.
The NHL held its first skills competition in 1990, before the 41st All-Star Game in Pittsburgh. It has been a fixture in the league ever since, and over the years various contests have been introduced to challenge participants.
In 2022, the NHL is leaning into its decor by introducing two Vegas-themed events. These will be part of the festivities along with five games used in past skills competitions. The winner of each contest wins a prize of $30,000.
All the fun starts Friday, February 4 at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. To prepare you, here is a breakdown of the seven events.
The face-to-face of the fountain
This competition will literally take place on the Fountains of Bellagio. The eight participants will travel by boat to an “ice rink” set up in the fountain, where they will shoot five pucks as quickly as possible at five targets.
Qualifying players will advance to the finals, where a fountain jet breeze is ready to swirl and make things even tougher for the contestants.
Added bonus: This event will feature three-time Olympic medalist Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson as one of the shooters.
Field: Jordan Eberle, Seattle; Claude Giroux, Philadelphia; Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida; Roman Josi, Nashville; Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson; Mark Stone, Las Vegas; Nick Suzuki, Montreal; Zach Werensky, Christopher Columbus
Favorite: In this very first event, bet on the second All-Star Huberdeau to work his muscles.
21 in ’22
From the Fountains to the Strip! Because who wouldn’t want to play street hockey on Las Vegas Boulevard, especially when there’s a blackjack theme?
Five contestants will face off against a full deck of oversized cards arranged in a rack formation. The goal for shooters, just like at the blackjack tables, will be to hit 21 without going over it — and to do it in the fewest number of hits. Each round is won by the first player to nail 21, or whoever has the highest hand. The first player to win two rounds wins the pot.
Field: Nazem Kadri, Colorado; Auston Matthews, Toronto; Joe Pavelski, Dallas; Steven Stamkos, Tampa; Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa
Favorite: Count on Kadri and Matthews to have the inside track here – and bet on Matthews to hit the jackpot.
What comes back
A classic. Eight players will complete one – and only one – timed lap around the T-Mobile Arena, and each participant will be able to choose the direction in which they will skate. the referee’s whistle. The fastest time wins.
The final winner of this event was New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal, who was not selected for All-Star Weekend this time around. Thus, a new champion will be crowned. Past winners in the field this year are Connor McDavid (a hat-trick from 2017-19) and Dylan Larkin (2016).
Field: Kyle Connor, Winnipeg; Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles; Chris Kreider, New York Rangers; Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington; Jordan Kyrou, St. Louis; Dylan Larkin, Detroit; Cale Makar, Colorado; Connor McDavid, Edmonton
Favorite: This will be McDavid’s event to lose (see credentials above). But if anyone can top the Oilers captain, our bet is on Larkin or Connor.
This is where we involve everyone. Four goalkeepers against 36 players. Who emerges victorious?
Each goalkeeper will face all the shooters of an opposing division. Players will shoot at the net in numerical order – lowest to highest – with the division captain playing last. If the goalie stops the captain’s shot, he continues to face the pucks until a goal is scored (the round must end with a goal, not a stoppage).
The goalie who produces the longest save streak wins. If there is a tie in the length of the streak, the winner will be determined based on the number of saves made. And if yet another tiebreaker is needed, we get sudden death “goalkeeper goals”, which sounds kind of fun.
Field: Frederik Andersen, Carolina; Jack Campbell, Toronto; Thatcher Demko, Vancouver; John Gibson, Anaheim; Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh; Juuse Saros, Nashville; Cam Talbot, Minnesota; Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay
Favorite: Well, that group is almost certain to contain all three Vezina Trophy finalists this year, but Vasilevskiy still has the inside track. Keep an eye out for Campbell, though.
This brings the heat. We’re talking about a 100 mph fire.
At least four players will line up along the nearest blue line, behind a puck located 30 feet from the center of the goal. Competitors skate ahead and give the vulcanized rubber the biggest kick it’s ever felt, while a radar gun tracks its progress. Each player gets two attempts and shots must be on goal to count.
If a player breaks their stick on a shot, they get another chance. Whoever has the highest score on the radar gun wins.
Zdeno Chara owns this event, hitting a record speed of 108.8 mph during his five-year reign as the hardest shot champion from 2007-12. Shea Weber currently holds the crown (from a shot at 106.5 mph in 2020) and was a three-time champion from 2015 to 2017.
The only other winners since 2006? Alexander Ovechkin (2018) and John Carlson (2019).
Field: Victor Hedman, Tampa; Timo Meier, San Jose; Adam Pelech, New York Islanders; Tom Wilson, Washington
Favorite: In his All-Star weekend debut, Pelech could definitely run away with that title. Wilson, also a rookie and big-body forward, is a dormant pick.
It’s baaaack! The skills competition hasn’t included the breakaway challenge since 2016, and the NHL is going all out with its return as a “shot-rigging” competition.
Anaheim Ducks rookie phenom Trevor Zegras wasn’t selected for All-Star Weekend, but the league is making him a special guest for the event. He is not the only one.
Also present will be goaltender Manon Rhéaume and actor Wyatt Russell, a former professional hockey player.
Rhéaume was the first woman to play in the NHL when she played two preseason games with Tampa Bay in 1992. She was also an Olympic silver medalist at the 1998 Games.
Russell, the son of actor Kurt Russell and actress Goldie Hawn, has appeared in net for several minor league teams over the years, including Chicago Steel.
This game requires a minimum of four players and two goalies. Shooters can start anywhere in the neutral zone and move throughout the offensive zone, including behind the net (hence the inclusion of “The Michigan” master Zegras).
Each skater gets two shot attempts, which will be judged by a jury on a scale of 1 to 10. The shooter with the highest score after two rounds wins.
Field: Alex De Brincat, Chicago; Jack Hughes, New Jersey; Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota; Alex Pietrangelo, Las Vegas; Trevor Zegras, Anaheim; Manon Rheaume, Wyatt Russell
Favorite: As if Zegras wasn’t the guy here. Pure talent, and a little chip on the shoulder for not being selected as an All-Star to begin with.
If any event can really shake a guy up, it’s probably this one.
There will be two players from each division included, with four setters. Four polystyrene targets will be attached to the corners of a net.
A shooter will stand 25 feet from the goal line; another shooter does the same at the other end of the ice. Two passers frame each shooter and alternately send pucks into the shooting line. Shooters will attempt to hit all four targets as quickly as possible. Whoever gets them all the fastest wins.
Lamoureux-Davidson will also be part of this event, acting as one of the passers.
Fun fact: No one on this season’s All-Star rosters has ever won the marksmanship challenge. Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin is the defending champion as of 2020.
Field: Sebastian Aho, Carolina; Patrice Bergeron, Boston; Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo; Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton; Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary; Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh; Clayton Keller, Ariz.; Jonathan Marchesault, Las Vegas; Troy Terry, Anaheim
Favorite: Some players wither under the pressure of sniping challenges. Draisaitl will not be part of it.