Hockey Analytics: Skills Development Measures

Gus Katsaros
·7 min read


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The Coaches Site is presenting the Global Skills Showcase this week, building off its successful Teamsnap Hockey Coaches Conference that would normally take place in the off season.

Every day, for the five day period between March 22 and March 26, there will be four presentations on a variety of different topics. The tweet below contains the agenda for the entire conference.

Looks like a great starting line up @TheCoachesSite Look forward to some great presentations (let’s go @timturkhockey !!) to help add to the player development arsenal #globalskillsshowcase Not too late to register https://t.co/n4rusCl8y7 pic.twitter.com/SGNC6pLlsj

— Michael Bonelli (@mikebonelli) March 22, 2021

The first two days featured a concentrated blend of intellectual/mental, and on-ice drills, featuring a global cast of presenters. Broad topics spanned Technical Shooting and Scoring, and Developing Agility in Small Spaces and the mental aspect of development in The importance of Cognition and Variability.

WED

3/24

5:00 PM

8:00 PM

NHL

Ducks at Wild

NBCSN

WED

3/24

8:00 PM

10:30 PM

NHL

Sabres at Penguins

NBCSN

WED

3/24

10:30 PM

1:30 AM

NHL

Kings at Sharks

NBCSN

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Attaining efficiency with data driven analysis can only improve overall process and results, and while a functional component is being further studied, they’re still based on shot metrics. The performance of the individual likely has measurable components for keen eyes and purveyors of skills wisdom to break down into its base components. A new world of information awaits skills development when it becomes the next analytics frontier.

Prominent skills development coaches like Darryl Belfry has established his methodology (he lays down his philosophy in his book, Strategies to Teach the World’s Best Athletes), as well as former Marlies assistant coach and analyst, Jack Han impose some form of analytics into their skills development assessments, but we are still in the infancy.

Some insight from Jack’s post on Player Development Analytics, (Jack has worked with Belfry):

Darryl Belfry describes a different data-oriented approach in his recent book. Having worked with him in the TOR organization, I’ve grown to appreciate his methodology, which revolves around the idea of frequency and success rate.

Simply put, when working with players looking to optimize their game, we should track data related to how often a player executes certain actions (frequency) and how often those actions lead to a continuation play (success rate):

Belfry’s data-driven approach is proprietary – and paradigm shifting – considering he’s been implementing these types of measurements since inception and working with prominent names at all stages of their careers. Having the ability to track progress offers unique customization, given Belfry’s approach to frequency and success.

Tim Turk, in his presentation on shooting mechanics used a stat to portray the efficacy of the ‘stride release’, the formation of a perfect shooting stance. Turk broke down the ‘stride release’ and expanded a bit into the 70% figure, but clearly this was just a starting point into how the importance of a skill, or set of skills in conjunction, function to set up a high percentage of offensive chance generation. Sometimes, common language would be of great assistance, but that’s another post for another time.

Auston Matthews Shooting Mechanics - Global Skills Showcase
Auston Matthews Shooting Mechanics - Global Skills Showcase

Skills aren’t successful in isolation. In the ‘Four S’s of Scouting’, I broke down how individual skills are assessed in a scouting bubble, but skills aren’t independent of each other, they’re coordinated efforts. Speedsters ripping up and down the ice sheet that fail to integrate different gears to accommodate their different skillsets aren’t optimizing their best. Effective skills integration (sometimes referred to a skills layering) is the key to success.

Kasperi Kapanen as an oft-used example here. Wildly fast as a skater, but doesn’t blend creativity into his speedy skillset and can operate with blinders at times. Sure, he exploits his speed and shooting ability in isolated moments, but doesn’t integrate these skills efficiently. Typically skating into dead ends, requiring more integrated skills to recover, or advance the play.

I'll offer this & another vid for Kapanen. One is the biggest complaint from me, he dead ends himself constantly. This is just an example pic.twitter.com/xz0EHU3N4g

— Gus Katsaros🏒 (@KatsHockey) September 26, 2016

A MIND IS A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE

One area that will always be an issue is how to properly assess the mental game, and its association with a skillset. Hockey IQ is such an ambiguous and multi-faceted principle, and effectively unavailable as a metric, unless paired in conjunction with something else that is measurable.

The Coaches Site Quote by Socarates
The Coaches Site Quote by Socarates

We can make post-hoc observations, but that introduces subjectivity that leans towards individual bias. Assigning a metric to mental capacity is virtually impossible. But inroads are being made.

Ted Suikhonen is the Director of Player Development/Skill Specialist with HC Lokomotiv in the KHL with a recent degree in Neuroscience, presented the ‘Importance of Cognition and Variability’. Demonstrated in his twitter feed, and as a guest on The Coaches Site Glass and Out podcast, he goes into greater depth.

Ted Suihkonen Cognitive Development
Ted Suihkonen Cognitive Development

Suihkonen and David Laszlo did an incredible podcast about skills and coaching development that is really worth the listen – introducing adverse conditions to practice and simulate in game situations were only a couple of the interesting ideas they elaborated on – bad ice, no floods, bad passes so players can learn to corral pucks, among other intricate details.

BIOSTATISTICS

Imagine a method in which to determine physiological ‘tells’ about intent. Imagine putting sensors that can track mental activity, or is sensitive enough to subtle movements that trace intention in skills, rather than assessing results of skill execution.

Continuing the thought experiment, for example a player has a ‘tell’ when they’re about to shoot. Physical tells exist, like dropping a shoulder, or body contorting into shooting position, but imagine that it was a very slight movement in the eye (for example). Monitoring that eye movement would be a distinct input into what a player does before a specific event. Skills can be ‘measured’ by the element of intent, against the results rather than solely against the aftermath of the events.

Now imagine, instead of an eye movement, its neurons firing in the brain. Right before Ovechkin fires, this area of brain lights up. Before a hit, or a pass, or a dangerous scoring attempt, these other areas of the brain fire off neurons, sending distinct signals through the brain.

Now imagine being able to parse through the data results of a control group and an experimental group to see if there is any cognitive function involved on the individual skill level.

Ted Suihkonen Quote on the Brain Dimension
Ted Suihkonen Quote on the Brain Dimension

The next step in the skills ladder will be introducing biomechanical data inputs. Standardization questions and bias exist however, using this type of assessment method is likely more devoted to private practices where focus on skills development is foremost, not shot based results, as long as game-like situations can be simulated successfully.

The frontier is yet to be written, but it’s in between the ears.