How Fast Can Hockey Players Skate?

The fastest NHL skaters reach their top speed at about 20 to 28 miles per hour. Almost as fast as a car cruising at a moderate pace down the strip.

Through technology, we’ve gotten some pretty decent estimates over the years and answer this tricky question: How fast do NHL players skate? Indeed, the tech is more sophisticated now, and the results are more precise.

Earlier this year, we saw Keith Horstman, the NHL’s VP of technology, show off the NHL’s new tracking system engineered by the guys at SportsMEDIA Technology, and the results are impressive. So much so that the system will be installed in all 32 NHL facilities.

So, what does this mean for the sport going forward?

Few can pull a Connor McDavid and skate a full lap in 13 seconds, so most teams are comfortable having a designated speedster on the team and playing to the individual strengths of the crew. Still, it’s safe to say that the insight provided by this new tracking technology will prompt coaches and players to pay attention to their speed like never before.

After all, the faster you are, the harder it is to steal the puck from you.

Who are the fastest NHL skaters?

According to the NHLPA

Well, if you ask the players themselves,  81% of them will agree that Connor McDavid is the fastest skater in the league, according to a survey made by the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) between 2017 and 2018. Michael Grabner comes in second, closely followed by Mick Leddy.

Do keep in mind this poll only collected the players’ opinions on who they thought was the fastest. Before the implementation of SMT’s tracking system in 2019, information on how fast NHL players were wasn’t so readily available, except to broadcasters and coaches, and the latter wouldn’t expose their players’ stats if they revealed a liability.

2020 NHL All-Star Game - The Fastest Players Today

The truth is: the most reliable data on players’ speed came either from commentators, sports websites or in the form of a fun little event we know as the NHL All-Star Game, in which the league fastest would skate one lap around the rink to see who’s boss.

Sure enough, Edmonton Oilers’ very own Connor McDavid won the Faster Skater Skills Competition 3 years in a row between 2017 and 2019, clocking in at 13.378 seconds.

In 2020, however, another player would take the crown. New York’s Islanders’ Mathew Barzal became the fastest NHL player clocking in at 13.454 seconds at the Faster Skater All-Star Skills Competition of the 2020 NHL All-Star Game.

The Golden Jet - NHL’s Fastest Ever

Barzal and McDavid are the fastest in the league right now, both reaching top speeds of about 27 miles per hour, but they’ve yet to top someone else’s record to become NHL’s-fastest skater ever.

We’re talking about the Golden Jet himself, Bobby Hull. At the peak of his career, Hull could skate at 29 mph. No wonder he made it to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and a team was named after him. Any fans of the Winnipeg Jets here?

Wanna beat Barzal’s record? Here are 5 tips to help you get there

#1 Wider strides

By pushing yourself sideways really hard, you gain more grip on the surface. That will help you propel yourself forward more efficiently. If you were to stride with your blades perpendicular to the ice, you’re going to keep slipping almost on the same spot. You’ll still move forward, just not that far.

#2 Do some sprinting off the rink

Sprinting for a good 30 yards in a straight line with all your might will improve your acceleration. Explode out of the starting line leaning your body forward at a 45-degree angle, and after covering those 30 yards, walk back to the starting line for a brief cool down before you do it all over again.

#3 Dryland skating is key

Skating on ice isn’t enough to improve acceleration and top speed. Any hockey player or coach will tell you this is simply a must in your training.

#4 Work on muscle memory

Execute your drills, simple as they may be, with proper technique every time, even if it’s just a warm-up. That consistency will get embedded as muscle memory. Over time, proper technique will become second nature, and you’ll be able to concentrate on how fast you’re skating instead of being self-conscious about your strides and hips.

#5 Weight training focused on explosive strength

The thing about weights is that if they’re too heavy, it’s going to slow you down in the long run.

Lifting heavy weights require slow movement, and that too can get embedded in your muscle memory. Instead, you want to incorporate weight lifting for explosive movement. It stimulates muscle growth, but it also improves quickness and acceleration.

Think of it like weighted basketballs. Basketball players use them to improve handling and dribbling, so when they do it with a regular basketball, they can perform with less strain.

The same principle applies to hockey. Your weight lifting should help you take off effortlessly. Try weighted jumps, for example.

The 3rd Period

So, what did we learn? The average speed of an NHL player is 20-25 miles per hour, though the fastest skaters can actually manage around 27 mph. Players like Connor McDavid and, more recently, Mathew Barzal.

The insight we’ve got was limited by the technology we had, and even with SMT’s tracking system, some non-disclosure policies will still probably limit data to each team’s internal use. Still, we can expect more detailed information on each player’s performance for all of you number crunchers out there.

With that in mind, we’ll no longer need to rely solely on the All-Star Game to see who’s the fastest. With this real-time tracking technology, we might find out there are actually more than a few speedsters on each team and how fast they can really skate during the game.

Planning to beat Barzal’s record? Watch those stats and keep those tips in mind. You might even beat Hull’s record!

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Cameron Wilson
Cameron Wilson
Cameron is from Ottawa and played college hockey for Saskatchewan. He now coaches in Division III. He is passionate about traveling, treaking, woodwork, and ethnic food. Cameron is also interested in sharing his knowledge about the beautiful game of ice hockey.