Certain NHL players are described as having an elite shot, but one of the issues with that statement is that it’s a little too vague. There are multiple techniques to shooting the puck in hockey, and even some of the best snipers in the game are far better at certain types of shots than they are at others.
Take Brock Boeser for example. Boeser has a wicked wrist shot, arguably one of the best in the NHL. It’s how he destroyed all comers in the accuracy competition at the 2018 NHL All-Star Game and a big reason why he has 69 goals through his first 166 games in the NHL. If he had been able to stay healthy, he would surely have two 30-goal seasons already under his belt at the age of 22.
Boeser’s slap shot, on the other hand, is not as strong, particularly when it comes to one-timers. It lacks accuracy and he sometimes has trouble making strong contact with the puck on one-time attempts. That’s why it’s been particularly frustrating watching the Canucks continually trying to set up one-timers for Boeser on the power play. It plays away from his strengths as a shooter.
When I looked at the power play in a recent article, I noted that Boeser’s career shooting percentage on wrist shots is twice as good as his shooting percentage on slap shots. What I didn’t do is place that in context.
For instance, is that difference in shooting percentages exactly what we should expect to see? Wrist shots, after all, are generally more accurate than a slap shot, which is designed more for power than accuracy. How does Boeser’s shooting percentage on wrist shots compare to the NHL average or to other elite snipers?
To answer that question, I pulled shot data from NHL.com from this season and the previous five seasons. Over the last five seasons, there have been 352,083 shots on goal, with over half of them — 178,374 — counted as wrist shots by NHL scorekeepers.
I took the data and found the shooting percentage for each type of shot, split up by forwards and defencemen. That led to some fun discoveries, so let’s take a look.
The two types of shot that led to a goal most often were deflections and tips, at 18.84% and 18.25%, respectively. That makes intuitive sense: modern goaltenders are fantastic at tracking the puck and can stop even the best shooters in the NHL if they have a clear line of sight and are in the right position. A deflection or tip, however, completely changes the trajectory of the puck, making it a lot harder to make a save.
What’s the difference between a deflection and a tip? According to the NHL, a tip is off a player’s stick; a deflection is off any other part of the player, such as a part of the body, a skate, or even a helmet.
That means a deflection is frequently unintentional, making it even harder for a goaltender to anticipate. It also makes it somewhat amusing that the most “accurate” of all shot types is a deflection off a defenceman. That would presumably be a defenceman jumping up in the play, going to the front of the net, and having a pass or shot bank in off their body.
The higher shooting percentage for defencemen on deflections, as well as tips, makes a lot of sense: when a defenceman jumps up in the play and goes to the front of the net, that leads to mismatches in defensive coverage. Something has gone wrong for the defending team if the opposing defenceman is in front of the net to tip or deflect a puck.
That also explains one of the other fun discoveries: defencemen are significantly more successful at wraparounds than forwards are.
Wraparound goals are relatively rare in the NHL. There have been just 268 wraparound goals in the past five seasons, which is 0.77% of all goals scored in that time, and just 30 of those goals have come from defencemen. When a defenceman does try a wraparound attempt, however, it results in a goal more often than a forward trying a slap shot.
That’s likely because a defenceman in that situation is in a place where they shouldn’t be — behind the opposing net — leading to confused defensive coverage and a goaltender that may be anticipating a pass more than a wraparound attempt.
When we get into actual shots, rather than tips, deflections, and wraparounds, there are also some interesting results.
Slap shots are easily the shots least likely to lead to a goal, and this is particularly true for defencemen. A slap shot from a defenceman goes in the net just 4.84% of the time. Wrist shots from defencemen aren’t much better.
That’s because shots from the point, where defencemen are most likely to shoot from, are among the least dangerous shots in hockey. While point shots occasionally go in, most goaltenders would be happy as can be if every shot they faced was from the point.
That doesn’t mean teams shouldn’t take point shots, but that point shots should primarily be seen as opportunities to create the most dangerous shot types — tips and deflections. A point shot without players in front of the net looking to tip the puck is a poor shot selection.
Perhaps the Canucks’ 5-on-3 power play unit could take that to heart, as their primary strategy appears to be setting up slap shots from the point for Boeser and Quinn Hughes.
When it comes to the other shot types, backhands, snap shots, and wrist shots are all about equal for forwards. That in itself is an interesting result. You’ll often hear broadcasts talk about backhand shots as being difficult to stop as it’s harder for a goaltender to read the puck off the stick, but that’s evidently balanced out by a decrease in accuracy for the shooter.
Now that we’ve established the NHL average shooting percentage for each type of shot over the last five seasons, where do the Canucks shooters stack up?
I put together a chart of each Canucks player with the NHL.com shot data from the last five seasons and this season. While this data is missing some shots — specifically, overtime shots, I believe — it still gives us a good idea of the type of shot each player excels at.
The chart is coloured by how far above or below league average the player’s shooting percentage is, and they’re ranked by overall shooting percentage. Gold is higher than average, red is lower, while white is average.
Elias Pettersson immediately jumps out. Look at that shooting percentage on slap shots: 23.26% is so far above the rest of the Canucks that it’s astounding. In fact, Pettersson’s 23.26% shooting percentage leads the entire NHL. The next best shooting percentage on slap shots is from Alex DeBrincat at 23.07%.
Clearly, Pettersson’s one-timers from the PetterZone are a dangerous weapon, but they’re not the only one he possesses. He’s significantly above average in all shot types except for tips, where he’s a pinch below average, and wraparounds, but only because he has never attempted one and gotten a shot on goal. If he had been successful at getting the puck up on his stick for his attempt at a Zorro goal last month, you can bet that would be at 100%.
Speaking of 100%, Chris Tanev shows up with 100% success in two different shot types, which might be my favourite part of this chart. Tanev has scored on 100% of his deflections and tips in his career, which is hilarious.
Tanev rarely roams up ice, but when he does jump up and goes to the net, good things happen. He has two deflection shots and two tip shots in his career: he’s scored on all four of them.
In fact, Tanev has the best shooting percentage over the last five seasons (and this season) is the best among Canucks defencemen, though he’s scored on just 1.45% of his slap shots, lowest among Canucks defencemen.
J.T. Miller jumps out as well for his success in multiple categories. He has more goals on deflections than any other Canuck, which is either indicative of how he goes to the net or of how lucky he is once he gets there. Or perhaps he’s just very good at angling his body in such a way as to put the puck in the net without getting the goal called back for doing it on purpose, as he did this season with his leg on a Pettersson pass.
Elias Pettersson is a genius pic.twitter.com/sno7YXjBl3— Harman Dayal (@harmandayal2) November 8, 2019
Speaking of players that go to the front of the net, Bo Horvat is the Canucks’ best tipper, and I’m not talking about at restaurants. His 29.27% shooting percentage on tips leads all Canucks forwards, followed closely by Tanner Pearson and Antoine Roussel. That’s in the top-20 in the NHL over the past five seasons.
As expected, Boeser is exceptionally accurate with his wrist shot. His 18.25% shooting percentage on wrist shots leads the Canucks, followed closely by Sven Baertschi and Pettersson. Among NHL players with at least 200 wrist shots over the last five seasons, the only player with a better shooting percentage on wrist shots than Boeser is Auston Matthews.
While I mentioned above that his slap shot is less than half as effective as his wrist shot, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Boeser has a league-average slap shot for a forward. It just pales in comparison to his elite wrist shot.