Which shot type is most popular in the NHL?
Part No. 1 of a two-part series
NHL Trends in Shots, by Shot Type
While compiling data for past studies, I noticed a statistical category that I thought would be interesting to examine: Shots and Goals, by Shot Type. Since we know from my recent study (Are players improving at a faster rate than goaltenders?) that Shots are slightly up and Shooting Percentage has been steadily increasing over recent seasons, why not take a closer look at how these Shots are being scored.
Below, in Part No. 1, we’ll examine trends in Average Shots per Game by Shot Type for the past 10 Seasons (2012-13 to 2021-22) as of March 21, 2022. In Part No. 2, we’ll look at trends in Average Goals per Game and Shooting Percentage by Shot Type. For reference, the types of shots tracked include: Wrist, Snap, Slap, Backhand (labeled “Back”), Tip, Deflection (labeled “Deflect”), and Wrap Around (labeled “Wrap”).
— Pregame Skate contributor Thomas Pepin
As you can see from the chart above, Wrist Shots have made up the majority (18.28 or 57.88% in 2021-22) of the Total Shots per Game (31.59 in 2021-22) and have been steadily increasing (+25.25%) over the past 10 Seasons.
Since it’s difficult to see the lines (and thus the trends) in the other shot types, the chart below excludes Total Shots and Wrist Shots.
Snap and Slap Shots are the next most common shot types, making up 13.20% (4.17) and 13.14% (4.15) of Total Shots (in 2021-22), respectively. Over the 10-Season period, Snap Shots have increased 1.42%, while Slap Shots have decreased 31.05%. Otherwise, the rest of the data by shot type (in 2021-22) are as follows:
Backhand Shots 7.78% (2.46) of Total, up 2.24%;
Tipped Shots 5.17% (1.63) of Total, up 33.30%;
Deflections 1.99% (0.63) of Total, up 56.97%; and
Wrap Arounds 0.86% (0.27) of Total, down 30.76%.
Discussion: As you can tell from the results, Wrist Shots dominate the NHL and they are only getting more common. Otherwise, Tips and Deflections have increased, but they, alongside Wrap Arounds and Backhand Shots, only make up a small percentage of the total.
Remembering the hockey I watched in my youth, the trend I found most interesting was the decreasing volume of Slap Shots. I remember very vividly Al MacInnis’ Slap Shot from the point, Brett Hull consistently blasting it past Goaltenders, and Steve Yzerman’s famous Game 7 Double Overtime Goal against the St. Louis Blues.
If I had to take a guess, these trends are likely caused by an increased pace to the game—allowing defenders to more quickly close the distance on shooters, in turn decreasing “the gap” and limiting a player’s time to “wind up”—as well as better quality players and defensive strategies across the league. Likewise, Goaltender equipment has improved dramatically, so goalies are a lot less concerned about getting in front of booming Slap Shots; likewise, players probably don’t think Slap Shots are as effective anymore. Instead, two shots that a player can get off quickly—Wrist and Snap Shots—are most prevalent, which makes a lot of sense. I’m sure this is further influenced by the flexibility of modern hockey sticks.
Finally, I was most surprised by the minimal volume of Tips and Deflections. Anecdotally, I feel like they are particularly effective, and it seems like many Playoff Goals come via those routes. Anyway, representing only 0.90 of the Total Shots per Game this season combined, it just feels like they’re being underutilized.
But, all of these intuitions are for naught given that we have scoring data on each shot type. If you’re interested like I am in learning each one’s effectiveness, tune in to Part No. 2: Trends in Goals per Game and Shooting Percentage by Shot Type.