We are all aware of the fact that making it to the NHL in the current era is usually the result of a childhood spent pursuing that dream with an intense focus. There are the clinics, the travel teams, the summer camps, power skating lessons, the elite development programs, prep schools with their own rinks, and major junior programs that mimic the NHL lifestyle.. By the time most players make it to the NHL these days they have pretty well-rounded and well developed skills. Their continued development at the NHL level is usually thought of as a matter of adjusting to the speed of the NHL game, getting used to the size and strength of NHL players and getting bigger and stronger. But as far as skills are concerned players entering the NHL are generally implicitly assumed to be fully formed
We hear of players working on their games after practice or in the off-season so we know that they practice more than just strategy but how much better can they get? Do they all really work hard to improve their game?
In the past few years there have been a number of popular books written on the topic of achieving excellence in specific endeavors, such as 'Talent Is Overrated' , 'Outliers', 'The Talent Code' and 'Bounce'. I'll not lie to you, I haven't read any of these books but I have read about them and I can summarize their message as 'thousands of hours of deliberate practice is far more important than talent in developing world-class skills'. As to whether or not the authors have really made that case I cannot say but from what I've read and from my own experience I am convinced that deliberate practice has a remarkable ability to improve skills.
But NHL players have been engaging in deliberate practice for years, haven't they? They all must be at or close to their maximum possible skill level right? Well I don't know the answer to that question but my hunch is that the answer is no. My hunch is that most of the players have not systematically set out to improve all of their skills to the greatest possible extent and that most of their time is spent lifting weights, doing sprints and going over video. I'd like to believe that significant improvement is possible even at the NHL level but obviously it is very rare. I've followed hockey for a long time and I can't think of many examples of it. What do you think? Can an NHL player become much better than he used to be? Can he reach a whole new level or can he make only marginal improvement?