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IN DEPTH: Skills Competition Rewind

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers
The entirety of the 2015-16 Oilers Skills Competition presented by Rogers will be broadcast live on Oilers TV and Sportsnet's Gene Principe and Oilers TV's Tom Gazzola will be your in-arena hosts, while Oilers TV's Chris Wescott brings live between-the-benches interviews during the event.

Will Leon Draisaitl take home the fastest skater prize for the second year in a row, or will Taylor Hall reclaim that spot from the rookie who unseated him last year?

When the Oilers take the ice at Rexall Place on Sunday, it will not be for a game. Edmonton is hosting their annual Skills Competition, presented by Rogers.

Oilers rookies and vets alike will compete to determine who is the fastest skater, who has the hardest shot, the best accuracy and more. This season is even more special. The event has sold out for its final instalment at Rexall Place before it and the team moves to Rogers Place in the fall.

“I know from years past, the turnout for skills has been pretty good,” said Oilers winger Jordan Eberle. “I think fans enjoy it. It’s a chance for them to come out and have some fun. We enjoy doing it too, whether it’s fastest skater or whatever the event is. I think a lot of the Canadian teams do it now too. It’s a good chance for us to show our support to them too. I know we’re giving our sticks and giving away stuff too.”

The annual Skills Competition gives the players a chance to step back from the daily grind of practices and games, and just have fun.

“It’s like playing pond hockey again. You enjoy it,” said Eberle. “There’s not really a business side to it. You just go out there and have fun, show off some of the stuff you can do and I know there’s a lot of talent on this team so it should be fun.”

This year, the Skills Competition will include challenges such as fastest skater, puck-control relay, hardest shot, accuracy shooting, 3-on-3 scrimmage and king of the shootout.

Let’s take a look back down memory lane at some of the Skills Competition’s best of the best, while looking ahead to who is participating this year in a few of the events.
 Photo by Andy Devlin
There's no question the Oilers have had their fair share of fast skaters over the years.

In the fastest skater competition, in results dating back 10 years, Erik Cole has the best time of them all.

In terms of players who have participated in this particular competition, Cole posted the best time of 13.1 seconds in 2008-09.

Cole would leave the Oilers that next season, having played 63 games for the club for one year. He takes with him the fastest skater championship belt for the last decade.

Over the years, several players have recorded sub-14-second times. Curtis Glencross finished 13.370 in 2007-08, Lubomir Visnovsky posted 13.9 in 2009-10, Taylor Chorney won top spot in 2010-11 (13.94) and Ben Eager (13.58 in 2011-12) and Hall (13.986) each were right up there in terms of the best.

Leon Draisaitl participates in the puck-control relay in the 2014-15 Oilers Skills Competition presented by Rogers. Photo by Andy Devlin.
Last year, Draisaitl’s time of 14.537 took home top honours. Hall was right behind him at 14.617, setting up a possible rematch between the linemates.

In order to be considered the fastest skater, select Oilers players will start three feet from the red line then go one full lap around Rexall Place ice. This is one of the more fun events to view as it is fast and competitive. The bets are already in on who among the players will take home the top prize.

“Everyone points to Hallsy, but there have been upsets,” said Eberle. “I remember one year Ben Eager won it. There are some guys who are really undercover fast that you don’t notice as much. Hallsy is always in the mix for sure.”

This year, as a part of Team Orange, Hall will participate in the fastest skater challenge and try to win back the title from Draisaitl. Rob Klinkhammer, Andrej Sekera and Iiro Pakarinen will also skate for Team Orange.

Draisaitl, Luke Gazdic, Darnell Nurse and Nail Yakupov will skate for Team Blue.

Fun fact: Shawn Horcoff won the fastest skater competition at the 2008 NHL All-Star Skills Competition in Atlanta with a time of 14.395 seconds. Andrew Cogliano won in 2009 with a time of 14.31 seconds in Montreal.

2014-15: Team Blue - Mark Arcobello (14.949), Leon Draisaitl (14.537) and Taylor Hall (14.617)
Team White - Tyler Pitlick (14.772), Oscar Klefbom (14.583) and Steve Pinizzotto (15.035)
For the youth skaters portion of the event, Team White won, while Draisaitl won the event with the best time.

Editor’s Pick:
Taylor Hall should be a favourite for this event, as Jordan Eberle stated, and is my pick to reclaim the title. Keep an eye on Leon Draisaitl, Nail Yakupov and Rob Klinkhammer, who has a long stride. For the backwards race that sees Andrej Sekera and Darnell Nurse go head-to-head, I’ll go with the veteran but wouldn’t be surprised if Nurse gives it a run.
 Photo by Andy Devlin
Bring out the heavies.

In tracking the last decade of results, the one thing that stands out about this competition is the number of players to record shots over 100 mph.

That kind of shot will leave more than a mark if it hit someone in front of the net.

The king of the hardest shot from 2006 to present day is Sheldon Souray. The 6-foot-4, 233-pounder put all of his muscle behind his shot attempt in 2009, recording a whopping speed of 106.7 mph.

Souray twice took home the title, following his record year with a 104.2 mph showing in 2010.

Oilers forward Luke Gazdic participates in the hardest shot competition at the 2014-15 event. Photo by Andy Devlin.
Last year’s winner of the hardest shot competition was defenceman Nikita Nikitin, who saw his try travel at 101.1 mph. He unseated the incumbent, Luke Gazdic, who in 2014 launched a 100.8 mph slap shot.

Other top results for this competition these past 10 years include Kurtis Foster in 2011 (103.4 mph) and Marc-Andre Bergeron in 2007 (103.5 mph).

This year, Oilers fans will get a chance to watch Pakarinen, Klinkhammer, Matt Hendricks and Benoit Pouliot participate for Team Orange for the hardest shot title. Cam Talbot will be the goaltender to fire a slap shot for the Orange squad. Eric Gryba, Mark Fayne, Yakupov and Gazdic are slated to participate for Team Blue, with Anders Nilsson as their shooting netminder.

Each player gets two cracks at this event. The pucks must hit the net in order for a speed to be registered.

2014-15: Team Blue - Keith Aulie (94.9/99.7 mph), Mark Fayne (96.9/95.5 mph), Nikita Nikitin (98.7/101.1 mph), Luke Gazdic (100.9/100.7 mph)
Team White - Andrew Ference (96.4/92.9 mph), Jeff Petry (97.8/99.8 mph), Brad Hunt (98.3/98.9 mph), Steve Pinizzotto (93.5/95.1 mph)
Team White had the best average among youth skaters, while Blue had the hardest individual shot and best team average as they won the event.

Editor’s Pick: Luke Gazdic is likely a favourite to take this one, given his past success with the competition. However, I wouldn’t discount the big, 6-foot-4, 228-pound defender Eric Gryba. Going with experience and saying Gazdic wins this one with a 101.4 mph rocket this year.
 Photo by Andy Devlin
In his final year with the Oilers, 1991, Mark Messier won the NHL All-Star Skills Competition title for shooting accuracy. He nailed four of his six shots.

The Oilers host a similar event, with three pro players and a youth skater on each side. Each player will get eight shot attempts at the net to hit four targets. They’re set up by two assist men.

Eberle is a veteran of several Skills Competitions over the years, and this target practice event is one of his favourites.

Oilers forward Jordan Eberle attempts the accuracy challenge at the 2014-15 Skills Competition. Photo by Andy Devlin.
“I like doing the target shooting,” he said. “I think that’s pretty much my favourite. The fastest skater is not really my forte. I had to do it one year and didn’t do really well. That, or the puck-handling relay is usually a pretty good one too.”

Eberle’s former teammate, Sam Gagner, twice was among the best at the accuracy challenge. In back-to-back years, 2011 and 2012, Gagner was top dog in terms of accuracy. In 2011, the forward was a perfect 4-for-4, tying Tom Gilbert. Gilbert beat Gagner in the tie-breaker round. In 2012, Gagner dropped four targets on five attempts.

Eberle will get his shot at the accuracy challenge, participating for Team Blue with Teddy Purcell and Lauri Korpikoski. Mark Letestu, Justin Schultz and Connor McDavid make up Team Orange’s trio. Setting up Orange as the passers will be Pouliot and Sekera. Draisaitl and Fayne will pass to the Blue players.

2014-15: Team Blue - Justin Schultz (4-for-6), Teddy Purcell (4-for-6), Keith Aulie (2-for-8)
Team White - Jordan Eberle (4-for-5), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (4-for-4), David Perron (4-for-4)
Team Blue won the youth skater portion, while Team White picked up a pair of points for the most targets in fewest attempts. Perron beat Nugent-Hopkins head-to-head in the tiebreaker.

Editor’s Pick: It’s hard to bet against Eberle, Purcell and Korpikoski with Draisaitl and Fayne saucing passes their way. However, I’m going to go with Team Orange in this one, just to make it fun, and say that McDavid goes a perfect 4-for-4.

By Chris Wescott,
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