Alex Barkov vs John Tavares
Power Profile: Barkov
When we talk about Alexander Barkov, we talk about how valuable he is all over the ice on a 200 foot ice surface. He’s one of the best puck-handling centermen in the NHL. He’s the trigger-man defensively to help out in the defensive zone. As soon as the Panthers get the puck back in the defensive zone, they usually try to hit Barkov for him to then lead the rush offensively. His capacity to feed his wingers in the offensive zone is off the charts, but one of the key elements of his game that nobody talks about is his skating. When he has a burst of speed it is second-to-none and it’s very hard to stop him once he’s in full stride.
Today, I’d like to analyze what type of skater he is. We’ll look at his strengths and weaknesses while touching upon how coaches can work with players who have the same skating profile.
Alex Barkov is the perfect subject for the Power profile skating type. This type of skater is regularly defined as one who’s stride phase is better than their “take off” phase. They are not necessarily quick or efficient on their starts, however once they are in stride, they are very difficult to contain/slow down. A Power skater is one who easily generates speed with each push. The flip side of this is that they could improve at conserving their energy on each stride, as they have tendency to use lots of energy and will often tire quite quickly. With this type of skater we can often notice some wasteful movements, primarily in the upper body- things such as an exaggerated use of their arms and shoulders.
For this type of skater, we’d recommend working on their start acceleration. There are many off-ice exercises that can be recommended. Hip extension exercises would be important for improving the players ability to open their skate gait upon take off. In addition to this, an exercise that sees the player performing a 1-legged open, external foot rotation leap would zone in on them strengthening their support leg. We’re trying to have them really concentrate on finding their propulsion foot’s purpose. The player should focus on pushing as hard as possible to generate maximum power. On the ice, we’re looking to work the quality of their blade contact with the ice, specifically the top portion of their steel while they are in a forward-leaning take-off position. Using the arena dasher board is perfect to exaggerate this type of motion in static position. Additionally, performing starts on a clean sheet of ice will really help the player see and analyze his blade depth, his stride distance, but also the angle of his stride push and the length of the steel’s surface contact.
Generally, with a Power skater type profile we’ll also see a need for the player to improve the speed of the « recovery » phase in their stride. A simple exercise that teaches good habits in this regard, would be to lay a couple of sticks in a line on the ice. The player would approach the line of sticks slowly and then proceed to accelerate quickly with a foot on each side of the line of sticks. Such an exercise should be done over 6 sets, 6-8 strides per set, with a rest period of 30 seconds between each set. The objective is to help improve stride recovery speed. This skating profile needs to learn to properly conserve their generated speed- and as such it’s extremely important for them to perform these recovery phase drills at game speed.
Photo of blade contact and skate angle while in forward skating motion.
This type of skater should regularly remind themselves of the following points, so they can be better at conserving their high-end speed over the course of a shift:
- Bring skate back under their body as quickly as possible
- Improve their glide phase with both skates on the ice
- Bring skate under their hip to immediately be able to use inside edge
When it comes to Barkov’s case, some good questions to ask are: Is his body weight moving laterally or horizontally so that it always finds itself on top of the propulsion foot during his strides? Do we see exaggerated lateral body movements? Are his arms moving on the same angles as his strides?
With Barkov, we can see that he is often working on the horizontal plane. This is easy to identify when we see him taking a penalty shot or with his puck protection positioning while in the corners.
- He does not exhibit many “exaggerated” horizontal body movements. His dekes are focused at the hands, shoulder and head level. And we’ll notice that he often has tendency to skate with two hands on his stick.
- He uses his propulsion arm along the horizontal plane. In the same direction as his stride. See photo.
Chameleon Profile: John Tavares
When hockey scouts and coaches talk about John Tavares these days, “big” is the word that inevitably pops up. It’s not about his size, but the way he has been playing through his career in the NHL. John Tavares is not the fastest skater, but he’s excellent at creating space for himself by making the right move with his shoulders and hands. Often, his goals look simple, like he just happened to find himself at the right place or right time on a loose puck or shooting on a wide open net. This isn’t luck, but his ability to anticipate where the puck is going. John Tavares’ skating profile I have classified as Chameleon. He has the capacity to go from a very low and deep positioning on his skates and then switch to high jumpy crossovers in a fraction of a second. He’s the type of player that always does everything right in power skating sessions. The biggest strength with his skating is the capacity to hit his outside edges. With every stride, he’s able to get on his outside edge, which greatly improves his glide.
Players who fall under the Chameleon skating profile, are those who adapt most easily to different skating positions. For example, you may see them in a deep-seated stance while performing quick crossovers, while conversely, in an instant they are capable of popping up tall (minimizing center of gravity) in that same turn to optimize their stride length and glide efficiency. Chameleon skaters are hybrids of different skating styles and this also explains why we find them at the center of the profile chart.
If I had to resume the comparison of this week’s skating profiles, it’d highlight the speed of a player over a defined period of time. Although there are numerous skating profiles identified in my chart, most players are usually capable of executing the majority of specific movements they are asked in drills. The two main things that change amongst the different profiles are: the timing between strides and their positioning of the skates on the ice. What occurs between two strides is so key in defining where a player can improve their overall speed. It’s at exactly this specific « split moment » where a skating coach should be able to pinpoint the proper technical remedies based on his athlete’s skating profile.
So that a coach can quickly identify a skater’s profile and give precise feedback on how the player may improve his skating, he must understand the technical points and the player’s biomechanics, but above all any indicators that arise from a player’s body asymmetry.
These indicators are super important so that he can understand the power contribution from each leg and can identify what needs to be done to generate speed and maintain it. The more pronounced these indicators are, the more risk a player has for injury, since one of the legs is bearing an excessive workload. On a scale of 10, players with an asymmetry of 4 or higher should be watched closely.
Asymmetry higher than 3 can be found in a number of places on the body. Here are a few examples :
- Poor skate fitting (length, width, blade profiling)
- One leg that is shorter than other
- Hip displacement
- Body imbalance and/or foot/ankle problem.
Circling back to John Tavares, he is still something of an enigma. When you try to compare him with other established stars, most people, will come up with wildly different answers. At the end of the day, he is a special player and skater because he’s got the knack of finding the little hole and exploiting that same hole with his skating deception either on his speed or directional change.
In the next skating profile breakdown coming in a few weeks, we’ll be looking at Energetic Type and Glide Pro Type. I have yet to pick out the players we’ll be highlighting but stay tuned for a great article that will evaluate these two interesting skating styles. Thanks for reading!