NRH Analysis #1 – Connor McDavid

Alright folks, we’re about to get into our first ever NRH Analysis. But before we begin, I’d like to hit a couple points of emphasis. First, when we dive into the analysis of these situations, we want to make it clear that we’re trying to look at a more complete picture of how the athlete’s skilled movement emerged under the immediate conditions of the game. This requires us to look at and both the solution and the problem. In our opinion, most of the movement analysis concerning hockey players focuses solely on biomechanics and ignores the situational problem. With little to no attention given to the problem, we’re unable to learn or even speculate what specifying information the athlete was attuned to or their sensitivity to the overall situation. We hope to address this area by providing in-depth breakdowns of key plays where we tackle the relationship between player and problem.

Let’s dive in.

The play:

Replay Angles:

Game: Edmonton Oilers vs Nashville Predators – Nov. 3rd 2021
Result: 5-2 Win Oilers
Player for analysis: #97 Connor McDavid, Center, Edmonton Oilers
Relevant defenders: #45 Alexander Carrier, Defenseman, Nashville Predators
#14 Mattias Ekholm, Defenseman, Nashville Predators
HT: 6’1 WT: 193lbs DOB: Jan 13, 1997

Connor McDavid is the most dynamic forward currently in the game. He will, barring injuries or any other external factor, end up as one of the greatest players of all time. So much of McDavid’s dynamic game changing skill, or at least the part that gets the most recognition, is his speed. The ability to always have another gear allows him to change speeds on defenders and select from a myriad of affordances that simply do not exist for other players. But McDavid’s abilities go way beyond speed; his ability to adapt to so many different problems, even those where his game breaking speed isn’t necessary—makes him one of the most adaptable problem solvers in the game today.

Arena: Rogers Place
Period: 1st
Shift Length: 1 minute
Shift Location: Starts with an OZ Faceoff win. Excluding one neutral zone regroup that occurs 30 seconds into the shift, McDavid and his line mates are able to keep the puck in the OZ for the entirety of the shift.
The Predators are currently playing Connor Ingram in net. It’s his second NHL game. The world’s most dynamic offensive player finds himself with time and space as he moves along the boards. After an offensive zone chance (Zach Hyman to Jesse Puljujarvi), a puck battle has resulted at the top of the left faceoff circle. Both teams find themselves in strong defensive positions with EDM having 3 above the puck and NSH having three players on the defensive side. NSH defensemen Alexandre Carrier (#45) is hyper-aware of McDavid moving slowly below the goal line. Carrier has, however, given McDavid a fairly large gap as he remains inside the dots until the puck is forced low.

PROBLEM # 1 and the critical information and relevant affordances
1. The puck is rimmed along the yellow on the left side of the ice.
2. McDavid, a left shot, is approaching from underneath, meaning he must retrieve this puck on his backhand and turn his numbers to the defense.
3. The defensive pairing on the ice is (NSH #45) Alex Carrier and (NSH #14) Mattias Ekholm. Carrier is the initial defenseman responsible for McDavid on the play.

As you can see above, the moment Carrier reads the rim he immediately goes at #97. McDavid, aware of the oncoming Carrier, elects to wait.

As 97 stops the puck, he makes an almost imperceptible move backwards, building just enough room off the wall. (Check out the video in 1/2 speed and you’ll notice it.)

It’s important to note here that Carrier may have picked up on McDavid waiting for him. Often, players with the puck on or near the wall will wait for the defender to close and then reverse hit, usually placing the defender off balance. McDavid has done this in the past, and considering it’s a common tactic, Carrier may have elected to cross-check 97 to negate any potential reverse hit and hopefully seal him to the wall. Furthermore, Carrier is listed at 5’11 and 174lbs. That is…light for most defenseman. And although McDavid is not considered a power forward by any means, he comes in at 6’1 and 193lbs. So, Carrier may solve a lot of corner/wall problems in general by initiating contact with a cross check rather than keeping the stick on the ice and going immediately for a pin. That’s speculation on my part but worth mentioning.

The image above reveals much of McDavid’s emerging movement solution. A moment prior to Carrier’s arrival, he had lowered his hips and made a jab step into the ice with his left foot. For McDavid, the approaching Carrier provides plenty of information (what he picks up I can only speculate). The speed at which Carrier approaches is clearly important, but what may be most important is the lack of a defending stick to 97’s left. This information, combined with the feel of Carrier’s cross check, is most likely a major factor in his roll to the left. In addition, rolling out left affords McDavid the use of his free hand (seen above), allowing for the use of a chuck/push off skill.

Now we see 97’s ability to use his free arm to further impede NSH #45’s attempt to gain any sort of leverage or regain his position. Furthermore, McDavid’s low center of gravity on the initial contact has been maintained and it has allowed him to keep his defensive check literally on his back the entire time. One last key aspect of these two images is the play of Jesse Puljujarvi (#13 EDM). McDavid’s teammate recognizes the situation and extends the time the gap is available by briefly holding on to Philip Tomasino’s (NSH #26) stick. These little interference plays become critical in creating and maintaining affordances for teammates, and this is a perfect example.

In this final image of our first problem, we can see one of the dynamic aspects that makes McDavid so difficult to contain. As he pushes off Carrier with his free hand, his ability to come out of the roll and immediately attack the space ahead of him (some provided by Puljujarvi’s small interference play) is remarkable. The additional cross over to gain speed in this moment is what allows him to separate himself from NSH #45 and #NSH 26.

Problem #2
1. McDavid has reached the inside of the dots and as a left shot his available net space for a shot is very limited but certainly still relevant.
2. Mattias Ekholm (NSH #14 – 6’4, 215lbs) is now the primary defender closing on McDavid.
3. Goaltender Connor Ingram (NSH #39 – 6’2, 196lbs) has attached to the post with standard RVH positioning.
4. Tomasino and Carrier have managed to place their sticks above McDavid in attempt to limit any low to high or slot-line (royal road) pass.

The three images below give us an excellent opportunity to analyze more of the perception-action relationship between McDavid and the problem he faces. Image 3 is a great angle showing McDavid is perceiving the most—Ingram in RVH and Mattias Ekholm rapidly closing in. It’s no secret that many goaltenders in the NHL have been defaulting into an RVH position almost immediately on any chance stemming from the corners. McDavid, familiar with seeing goaltenders in that position, is most certainly looking for the top short side corner, a goal he has scored many times in the past.

A split second later, the potential affordance for a shot is gone. Ekholm has closed the distance and is attempting to limit McDavid to the bad angle chance. Images 1 and 2 below reveal how McDavid is already self-organizing into a new movement solution as the affordance for a shot is decaying with every passing moment. Also, image 1 reveals Ingram’s awareness of where McDavid may be targeting—high over the shoulder—as he is trying to fill the top portion of the net as much as possible.

The image below is from the same time frame as the two above (or at least as close as I could get it). Regardless, the below frame reveals McDavid’s teammate, Zach Hyman (EDM #18, 6’1, 211lbs) streaking down the middle toward the back post. It’s an excellent read by Hyman to attack the space that will become critical in a matter of moments.

As Ekholm tries to limit the passing option, he lifts his hands allowing just enough of a gap between his knee and foot. McDavid’s almost hyper-sensitivity to the situation and ability to adapt between shot and pass is on true display here.

The question I can’t answer is whether McDavid actually saw Hyman breaking to the backside post. I consider it highly doubtful he saw him; however, McDavid’s high sensitivity to the situation and understanding of what is available to him and where his teammates should be is so well attuned that this play happens with almost uncanny efficiency. Again, major credit to Hyman for recognizing the dynamics of the situation and rushing to the only place McDavid could put the puck.

A fraction of a second later and the 97’s work from the boards to the tape of Hyman’s stick is complete.

Ingram comes up with the fantastic save, but it is McDavid’s ability to adapt to 2 distinct problems on the fly and create the chance for Hyman that is truly remarkable.

Training Thoughts:

We’ve trained a number of players in similar situations (i.e., pucks rimmed along the wall with a defender fast approaching), but what struck me the most when breaking down this play was the important role of 97’s teammates on constraining the Nashville defenders chosen actions. More specifically, McDavid’s movement solution emerged in part because his defenders were so aware of 97’s teammates. The point being, when training, it is important to consider the vital role teammates play in constraining the actions of the defenders, and therefore creating actual game-like specifying information for the player to cue in on. It’s common sense in some regards, but when looking at most training scenarios or talking to other coaches, I don’t think I see or hear that line of thinking often enough.

Special Shoutout:
Lastly, but certainly not least, I’d like to give a special shout out to Shawn Myszka’s work with Football Beyond the Stats ( It’s unbelievable source of information for football seen through an Ecological Dynamics lens. Also, Shawn and Tyler Yearby have done amazing work with their sport movement company, Emergence, which has also played a major role in my continued development as a coach. Check it out at They have a ton of great resources and I can’t recommend it enough.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s