ST. LOUIS – As Jack Eichel crossed the blue line, the Buffalo Sabres' captain appeared on track to accomplish what he could not at two NHL skills competitions.
Eichel needed only 6.3 seconds to skate from the red line, behind the net and over the blue line at the other side of the ice. Yet the 23-year-old was not crowned fastest skater, finishing fourth in the event with a time of 13.54 seconds Friday night in Enterprise Center.
Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid was unable to win for a fourth consecutive season, falling only 0.03 seconds behind New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal. Barzal crossed the red line at 13.175 seconds.
"I have to start giving up on it here," Eichel joked. "It’s my last year maybe."
Though Eichel finished behind Barzal, McDavid and New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider, the Sabres' 23-year-old center topped his time from each of the past two skills competitions. Eichel finished second (13.582 seconds) behind McDavid last January in San Jose and third (13.828) in Tampa Bay in 2018.
The fastest skater competition began with Kreider, a first-time all-star who replaced injured Rangers winger Artemi Panarin, posting an impressive time of 13.509. Surprisingly, Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon, widely regarded as one of the league's best skaters, had a time of 13.895. Eichel's time surpassed those of Quinn Hughes, Anthony Duclair and Travis Konecny, however, Barzal followed with his impressive feat.
"It’s the same thing," Eichel said of his approach. "Try and get loose before it. I feel like I had a good first half and maybe not the best second half."
Eichel wasn't done at the event, either. He participated in the save streak event and went 0-for-3 on shootout attempts. The puck rolled off his stick on a backhanded attempt on Pittsburgh's Tristan Jarry, and Eichel's wrist shot went off the leg pad of Washington's Braden Holtby.
Eichel, a three-time All-Star, has matched his previous career high of 28 goals through the Sabres' first 49 games this season. His 62 points rank ninth in the NHL, and he became the second player in franchise history to score 20 goals with 50 points in each of his first five NHL seasons.
Eichel's 17-game point streak tied Gilbert Perreault for the longest in franchise history and only ended because he was a late scratch Dec. 19 in Philadelphia. He will compete in the 3-on-3 All-Star Game on Saturday night at Enterprise Center. The Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions will begin the round-robin event at 8 p.m.
"First glance when you watch him, his skating is second to none in the league," Barzal said of Eichel on Thursday. "When you’re out there with him, his strength is a big thing and his shot is equally as good. He has all the components, and obviously, he’s been an elite talent this year. I’m sure he’s going to be like that for a long time. He’s probably going to be in the Hart (Trophy) race for a long time."
St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington won the save streak competition by stopping 10 consecutive shootout attempts, topping Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy by one.
Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin then won the accuracy shooting by hitting all five targets in 9.505 seconds, besting Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl by 0.752 seconds.
Canada prevailed in the elite women 3-on-3 game, beating the United States, 2-1, behind goals from Rebecca Johnston and Melodie Daoust. Hilary Knight scored the only goal for the U.S., which had 18 shots stopped by goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens. The teams played two 10-minute periods that would have included an overtime if it remained tied after regulation.
"I thought it was good," Eichel said of the event. "They looked gassed. I was saying I don’t know how many people they had on each team, 10 bodies a side. The pace was non-stop and it was good; 2-1 in a 3 on 3 is impressive. It says a lot about their compete level."
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber became a four-time winner in the hardest shot competition, winning on attempts of 105.9 and 106.5 miles per hour.
Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane, a South Buffalo native, won the inaugural shooting stars event. Participants were given seven shots from a platform in section 123 of the arena's lower bowl, and they attempted to hit different targets positioned on the ice.
Kane won the event in a tie-breaker over Toronto Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner.
"I think it’s a little gimmicky, but at the same time, try to have fun with it and enjoy the event," Kane said. "I think we all had a pact between us we were going to shoot for the arch and try to get as many points as we can through the 10-pointer. It was fun to win it. I’m a fan of the original skill stuff, like the puck control relay and the actual targets, the foam targets, that blow up. You understand where they’re trying to go with it, where they’re trying to create some different events and use technology to their advantage."