The Art of the Shot: How Kraken players developed theirs

Jan 5, 2023, 10:52 AM | Updated: Feb 5, 2023, 3:36 pm
Seattle Kraken Daniel Sprong...
Daniel Sprong of the Seattle Kraken scores against the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Kraken are coming off an impressive 5-2 win Tuesday at Edmonton where they faced two of the best players in the world in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They have their hands full again Thursday night with the Toronto Maple Leafs and superstar Auston Matthews. Coming off a season where he scored 60 goals, Matthews is one of the best shooters the game has.

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Mathews has 19 goals this year on a respectable 11.6 shooting percentage, which is below his career mark of 16%. To some, these percentages seem low but in hockey, anything above 10% is pretty good.

Scoring goals is difficult, which is why possessing the puck and getting more shots is so important. The more you have the puck, the more shots you can take, therefore you score more. The shot is an important skill and not all shots are the same. So what goes into shooting the puck?

“Sometimes you just close your eyes and say ‘Hail Mary’ and hope it goes in,” Kraken forward Ryan Donato jokes.

Donato, who has nine goals this year, is shooting 14.5%, up from a career percentage of 10.2. Joking aside, Donato does admit that the shot takes work, something that he and most players work at a lot of during the offseason.

“A whole lot,” he says. “Those skills kind of stay, it’s something you work on a lot when you’re younger. Everybody in this league is pretty good at doing those things. So it’s definitely a very big necessity if you’re going to be a goal scorer.”

Getting on the ice during the summer months helps a lot in working on the shot, but finding ice during the summer months is easier said than done.

“For me growing up in Denmark, we didn’t have endless ice opportunities, and especially in the summer, there’s no ice for me,” forward Oliver Bjorkstrand says. “So it’d be a lot of shooting in the backyard. And that’s kind of what I give credit to as far as how do you get a good shot, it’s just putting in the work.”

Bjorkstrand has always been a good shooter, sporting a 11.4% mark in his NHL career.

This year, though, Bjorkstrand only has five goals and is shooting a career-low of 5.3%. Did he suddenly become a bad shooter? No, his current season shows that there is a lot of luck involved in shooting. Bjorkstrand has hit posts, had great saves made against him, or just missed.

It speaks to the importance of being able to shoot and hints that he could be in for a good second half assuming he’ll get closer to his career numbers by the season’s end. Because it’s so hard, shooters work on shooting while getting leaned on and without clean looks at the net.

“During the season, you only have so much time. But now and then you can get out early or stay on after,” Bjorkstrand says. “In the summers it’s nice having certain objects to shoot through. Of course, in practice, you go down on a two-on-two, it’s maybe not the nicest thing for defenders to try to shoot through their legs. But I think if you want to surprise a goalie, you got to use defenders as your advantage as far as shooting through them and just getting the goalie’s eyes kind of thinking a little bit more.”

Like any skill in sports, there is natural ability involved in being a good shooter. But players keep tweaking and improving the shot as they progress through their careers.

“I’ve felt like I’ve always had (a shot). I think just as I got older, it became more of a focal point. I know I can shoot the puck and it’s just been in my game for a long time,” forward Daniel Sprong says. “Worked on it since a young age and still to this day, it’s just something that I know is a big part of my game and you always want to get even faster, harder. You want to keep working on it and something you take pride in.”

Sprong’s shot has been noticeable since he joined the Kraken last spring in a trade with the Washington Capitals. He’s been a pleasant surprise and great story this year, off to an 11-goal start and shooting a career-high 18% so far. He may regress a bit as the season moves forward but not too much. His career number is 12%, showing that he’s always been a good shot.

The biggest difference this season is opportunity. While Sprong has been on the fourth line without big minutes, he’s playing every day and earned a spot on the Kraken power play.

Sprong says he doesn’t care if he gets a slapshot or a wrist shot off. He has confidence in both and will take whichever is available to him.

Most players will tell you that there are a couple of fundamentals involved in a good shot.

“I think it’s release, deception, and of course the power behind it,” Sprong says. “I think those are the three big, big elements.”

A quick release is key. If you must take your time to get a shot off, the goalie and defense have time to adjust and get in a position to stop it. If you watch the good shooters, you’ll notice how quickly the puck gets off their sticks.

Good shooters are also extremely accurate, which is impressive considering they rarely have the time and space to aim.

“It’s like if you play basketball,” Bjorkstrand says. “You just have a feel of like how far and how much you have to put on the shot, and it’s no different in hockey. You pick your corner and with repetition, how many shots have you taken in practice, and it’s just habits and kind of the feel of it. But you know, sometimes you get lucky.”

As hockey has evolved, shooters have become better and better. Some players hire shooting coaches to work with in the offseason which has made a difference. But the biggest improvement is in the equipment.

The old wooden sticks didn’t flex very much and made shooting a bit tougher. Today’s players use composite sticks with a tremendous amount of flex, which helps speed up the shot and allows for a big whip motion.

“It’s a game changer,” Donato says. “I think definitely there’s a big difference and especially the lightness of the stick, but some guys still prefer a heavier stick and some guys can’t change. I’m one of those guys kind of stuck with the same old stick, but definitely there’s some crazy engineering that is going to the sticks.”

Shooting the puck is an art. The next time you watch a game, pay attention to the release, angle, and how hard a shot is. It won’t take long to identify the top shooters that are on the ice.

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The Art of the Shot: How Kraken players developed theirs