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Nielsen shows passing ability in skills competition

In first All-Star experience, Nielsen part of Atlantic Division victory

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

LOS ANGELES - Frans Nielsen might not be as well-known as Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby but he's got skills.

Nielsen took part in his first skills competition at the Staples Center Saturday afternoon, helping the Atlantic Division to the victory over the Metropolitan, Central and Pacific divisions.

In the first of six events, the NHL Skills Challenge Relay, Nielsen got to be the passer, with just 45 seconds to put the puck in four very small nets.

"I was a little nervous, actually," Nielsen said in the crowded Eastern Conference dressing room. "I think I missed my first one by three feet but when you get the first one, then it kind of slows down a little bit. It's not easy for sure. Need a little luck there, too, when it goes post and in sometimes."

The other parts of the relay included one-timers, puck control, stick-handling and goalie goals.

Although Nielsen did his part and Montreal goaltender Carey Price needed just one shot to score, Crosby got the Metropolitan Division the win with a quick finish in stick-handling.

Nielsen did not participate in the NHL Four Line Challenge, won by the Pacific Division when Arizona goaltender Mike Smith got 20 points by scoring a goal from the opposite end of the ice.

In the NHL Accuracy Shooting, Nielsen helped pass to former New York Islanders teammate Kyle Okposo as Okposo went up against current Islander John Tavares.

Okposo hit all four targets in 15.97 seconds to Tavares' 26.80.

"It's skills competition so I'm just trying to hit the targets," Tavares said. "It's not like you're battling in a game or the corner and you're getting a little bit more physical and playing hard on him. Hat's off to him, he did a good job and for me it wasn't as efficient as it was last year but it was fun."

Tavares won the accuracy shooting competition last year but this year Crosby took top honors.

"I think I would like to try the accurate shooting with the targets," Nielsen said. "I think it's one of those big ones every year, that and the hardest shot, those are two that you remember. It would have have been fun to try that."

Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid easily won the NHL Fastest Skater competition, beating Vancouver's Bo Horvat.

McDavid then had a chance to try to beat Dylan Larkin's one-lap record of 13.172 but came up short, going 13.310.

No one was surprised that Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber won the hardest shot competition with a 102.8 mile-an-hour blast.

Winnipeg Jets rookie Patrik Laine was impressive with shots at 101.7 and 101.5 miles per hour.

Nielsen and Tavares both say they will let Weber and Laine have that competition to themselves.

"I'm going to stay out of that one," Nielsen said.

Said Tavares: "I'm glad I didn't participate in the fastest skater or hardest shot, that's for sure. Those aren't easy, especially when you're cold and sitting around and not much warm-up and we had a travel day yesterday. They're all pretty challenging. I know a couple years ago I did the passing and didn't do that well in it so it was nice to be a little bit better this year. I did really well on the targets last year, didn't go as well this year. They're all challenging in their own way, they're all a lot of fun. That's what it's meant to be is to enjoy and celebrate all the skill and talent that's here and why our game's so great."

Because Weber won the hardest shot competition, that broke the tie with the Metropolitan Division and the Atlantic Division team competed in the shootout against the Pacific Division.

Despite being one of the best shootout performers in league history, Nielsen could not beat Smith.

"You're sitting out there, didn't feel really good skating down there after sitting on the ice for half an hour," Nielsen said. "I just tried to keep it simple and hope to catch him five-hole. It was all fun."

Boston's Brad Marchand, Weber and Crosby (with the two-point Discover puck) scored for the Atlantic Division and only Ryker Kesler, Ryan Kesler's 6-year-old son, could solve Price, who may not have given his best effort.

That meant the Atlantic Division won, earning the right to decide which team they would play and which game. Price, the captain, announced they would play the Metropolitan Division in the second game.

"Just want to beat those guys, I guess," Nielsen said. "I wasn't really in the decision making but I just heard some guys played the first game last year and it was tough to sit for so long before you had to go out and play again. So that's why they went second, just want to keep playing if they win."

It was certainly a win for Nielsen in the first day of his first All-Star experience.

"I don't know if there's one specific thing, for sure the thing I was a part of out there," Nielsen said. "But just the whole experience, everything. It was awesome. It was just great, all these great players. It was just a blast out here."

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