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Okposo to meet old linemate Tavares in All-Star skills event

LOS ANGELES -- Kyle Okposo is the Buffalo Sabres' lone representative here this weekend and he got quite a juicy matchup announced Friday for Saturday's All-Star Skills Competition in Staples Center (7 p.m., NBCSN).

One of the two events Okposo will participate in is the accuracy shooting challenge -- and his opponent will be his former New York Islanders linemate John Tavares, who is the defending champion in the event.

Two shooters from each of the four divisions will participate, with two additional players serving as passers. Players try to hit four 15-inch diameter targets located in each corner of the net. The shooter to hit all four targets in the fastest time wins. The player who hits all four targets in the fastest time scores a bonus point for his team. If a player breaks Daniel Sedin’s record of 7.3 seconds, they score one bonus point for their team.

There are six events, with all the points tabulated by division. The winning division gets its choice of matchup and first or second semifinal in Sunday's 3-on-3 tournament, with the survivor of the championship game splitting $1 million.

Okposo, 28, leads the Sabres in goals (15) and points (31) in the first year of his seven-year, $42 million contract that was the biggest free-agent deal in franchise history. This is his first all-star appearance. He assisted on Tavares' double-overtime goal in Game Six of the first round against Florida last year that eliminated the Panthers and gave the Islanders their first playoff series victory since 1993.

The accuracy shooting figures to be one of the marquee events of the entire competition. In addition to Okposo-Tavares, the other matchups are Auston Matthews vs. Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane vs. Jeff Carter and Connor McDavid vs. Patrik Laine.

Okposo will also take part in the skills challenge relay, shooting one-timers as one of the four events in that challenge. He will join Florida's Vincent Trocheck and Ottawa's Erik Karlsson against Metropolitan Division players Seth Jones (Columbus), Alex Ovechkin (Washington) and Wayne Simmonds (Philadelphia).

In addition to accuracy shooting and skills relay, players will take part in the annual fastest skater and hardest shot competition, a shootout contest and the new four-line challenge. In that one, each shooter will shoot from one of four shooting positions: Near blue line, center line, far blue line and far goal line.

McDavid is entered in the fastest skater event and is the likely favorite. The winner gets a chance to skate a full lap to try to break the record of record of 13.172 seconds that brought the house down last year in Nashville when it was posted by Detroit rookie Dylan Larkin.

Montreal's Shea Weber is a favorite in the hardest shot, where he will try to reclaim the record in the event from the 108.8 mph drive of Boston's Zdeno Chara.

Prior to the skills event, players will participate in their annual Media Day session with reporters and Commissioner Gary Bettman will hold his regular all-star news conference.

Events in Staples Center actually begin at 5:15 p.m Eastern with the All-Star Celebrity Shootout as stars from from movies and music combine with some of the NHL 100 stars in a exhibition game. Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux will be the head coaches for the two teams with former Sabres star Pat LaFontaine serving as one of the assistants.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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