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Talent, Skill and the NHL

More Hockey Stats

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Original post

On Talent In General

 

When you want to do some useful work, you need a skill to do that work. Naturally, one doesn't need a skill to tweet, but that's not a useful work to start with. But to do stuff that actually profits you a certain level of skill is absolutely necessary.

 

In order to have the skill, you need to learn it, and then to improve it. And there are only two basic factors that define how well you learn and improve in the skill - the talent and the effort. The bigger is your talent, the bonus from the nature, whether it's thanks to inborn memory, flexibility, or a quick eye, the less effort you need to achieve the given level of skill. And the trade-off is not even linear, there are areas, mostly creative ones, such as music or painting where no amount effort, grit and determination can bring you to a certain level of skill.

 

On the other hand, the bigger the talent, the less necessary the effort becomes, and at the extreme level of talent, also known as ... genius the person sometimes doesn't need practically any effort to improve at an incredible pace. This phenomena, already extremely rare, is mostly restricted to mind activities, bound by the necessity in constant exercise to maintain a high level of skill in a physical activity. Names of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in composing, Jose Raul Capablanca in chess or Robertino Loreti in music come to mind when we talk about such geniuses. Mozart was composing himself already at age five, Capablanca learned the game of chess from observation only, but won the Cuban Championship when he was twelve, and Loreti became a European super-star shortly after he was noticed singing folk tunes on the streets of Rome.

 

Talent And Skill In Hockey

 

Hockey is also a work that requires skill. It's a complex skill that consists of many abilities: skating, observation, agility, strength, endurance, wit an others. Since it's a team game, the team consists of players that excel at these abilities on a different level, and a "complete hockey player" would actually be someone who can skate like Mike Gartner, is observant like Wayne Gretzky, can shoot like Mike Bossy, has the strength of Eric Lindros, endurance of Nicklas Lidstrom, and, actually, can easily take a hit from Cam Neely (and hit like Neely, too) and hold his ground in a fight against Tie Domi, and such a "complete hockey player" would exist mostly in the computer games.

 

Nevertheless, of course the hockey players have different levels of ability in these dimensions of the hockey skill, and, unfortunately, today, mostly the ability to stickhandle is exclusively classified as 'skill'. No, the hockey skill is composite, and the wonderful dekes are just one aspect of it. Naturally, the most appealing, and probably the most important dimensions (we're not talking about goaltending here, but the reader can make similar projections to that position, too) are the ones directly relating to the goal scoring, and the players who excel at them are generally valued higher.

 

However, in the way the hockey is defined by the NHL rules and and the NHL tradition, other qualities of the skill - hitting, blocking shots, fighting are required to make the complete hockey team. In a different league, such as the USSR league was, with very limited hitting and explicitly prohibited fighting, the sportsmen would develop more into the goal-scoring oriented hockey players.

 

Where The Talent Comes From

 

Well, from mothers' wombs. But then, the players usually begin to learn the skill of hockey from a very young age, and by the age of the NHL draft eligibility, their talent is well-evaluated and the positions in the draft order give a good approximation of the order of the talent of the available players. There are few exceptions, and these mostly are the European players, especially the Eastern-European ones who do not take part in the draft, but continue to develop in their leagues, such as the KHL. But the rule that the biggest chunk of the hockey talent is available at the annual draft, and that the talent is sorted according to the actual draft picks pretty much holds.

 

Therefore, the teams that feature the higher draft picks in their roster are on average definitely more talented ones than the ones with the lower picks. Are they most skillful? Not necessarily. Remember, that in the first part of this essay we stated that to develop a skill, both talent and effort are required. Some players, for whatever reason, fail to put the necessary amount of effort to achieve the skill level expected for their talent, and became disappointments, or even draft busts. Some, on the other hand, put a great effort and determination, and leap beyond such expectations. The latter ones, unfortunately, are bound by that aforementioned ceiling that sometimes lack of talent produces.

 

A team whose top draft picks underperform on a regular basis must recognize it has a culture problem. When time after time, players, who are supposed to be easy learners and advance rapidly, stall or degenerate it means that the organization, and, pardon the pun, it's farm, has a soil problem, that even the best seeds planted in it fail to yield the desired fruit.
 



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I've always felt that hockey required wit, but until now thought I was alone in having that view.

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3 minutes ago, Podein25 said:

I've always felt that hockey required wit, but until now thought I was alone in having that view.

 

Welcome, first comment!

 

Larionov (and others, I think, too) used to tell how Tarasov was encouraging his players to engage in chess. Although that was easier for him, since chess was almost as much a part of the Soviet culture as hockey was.

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A team whose top draft picks underperform on a regular basis must recognize it has a culture problem. When time after time, players, who are supposed to be easy learners and advance rapidly, stall or degenerate it means that the organization, and, pardon the pun, it's farm, has a soil problem, that even the best seeds planted in it fail to yield the desired fruit.

 

 

Absolutely agree.  Developing talent is so key for the new NHL with the salary cap.  Organizations who fail to develop their youth will consistently be bottom feeders for years and years.

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38 minutes ago, hf101 said:

 

Absolutely agree.  Developing talent is so key for the new NHL with the salary cap.  Organizations who fail to develop their youth will consistently be bottom feeders for years and years.


Here I tried to account for the talent available to the different teams - it's up to the reader to make the conclusions regarding talent development of this or that org.

Edited by More Hockey Stats

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@More Hockey Stats

 

I have a Question:

 

While so many hockeyfans have hated the NHL adopting the shootout to end games with an entertaining finish at prompt times I've always had the theory that the shootout has increased and would increase the overall skill level throughout the NHL.

 

I've never been able to measure that though both from a stoppage skill in goalies and the players themselves with things like faster, more accurate wrist shots and improved puck handling skills for examples.  I'm not sure if this is something you can find a way to measure?

 

I think that the NHL has always had a talent level but imo, that skill level as a whole is an all time high as more and more youth are competing at greater and greater skill levels.

 

 

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@hf101,

I must once again state that there is a confusion in terms.

For me, what the NHL calls the "skill", is just the part of what I call "skill" - the one that involves handling the puck.

 

I am pretty much ambivalent about the shootouts. They are a different game, just like the penalties at the end of a soccer match are a different game from the rest of the encounter. I am much more concerned about the inconsistency in point scoring, since it provides a wrong incentive. :)

 

Now, regarding measurement of speed and accuracy, I don't think we can measure it ourselves, however, I think if the yearly pre-draft scouting combine reports are public, they should be the ones that give an idea, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

 

Other than that since the science of nutrition and the physiology and the pharmacology move ahead all the time, the physical limits of the players grow as well, and the sportsmen are simply more physically capable than before. Also since they constantly build upon the knowledge accumulated before that, the players and the teams should be mentally better too than their predecessors. In chess, practically nobody argues that even without the computer-assisted preparation today's top players understand and play chess better than the leading grandmasters did 50 or 100 years ago (with the exception of a couple of geniuses).

 

Talent is an inborn quality and should remain steady across generations in a skill so unrelated to mundane as hockey is, however - IMHO - the culture of effort, the level of commitment increased tremendously for all age groups of hockey players up from the preschoolers coming up for their first skating lesson.

Edited by More Hockey Stats

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