Watching hockey on TV or in person, it might seem like the players are gliding across the ice, but they have to pump their legs to build up any speed. So, with that in mind:
How fast do hockey players skate?
Professional hockey players generally skate in the 10-20 mph (16-32 km/h) range, with the fastest players coming closer to 25 mph (40 km/h). Connor McDavid is accepted as the fastest player in the NHL, winning three consecutive NHL Fastest Skater competitions (2017-19).
The state of the ice also plays a huge role in how fast hockey players can get going. It is not a coincidence that players seem to buzz around the rink after the Zambonis leave the ice.
To learn more about how fast ice hockey players skate, the fastest skaters in the National Hockey League (NHL), and much more, we encourage you to keep reading.
How Fast Do Hockey Players Skate?
When the ice is freshly resurfaced and players are feeling at their best, they can fly on the ice.
While the speed of players is something that has been tracked and measured for a long time, the upcoming utilization of advanced technology should give us an even more accurate picture of how fast ice hockey players skate.
As noted above, for now, the fastest players in the NHL have a top speed of 20 miles per hour (mph) and sometimes can even reach above 25 mph. While those are the top speeds in competitions specifically designed to test the speed of players, the fastest players top out around 20-23 mph in games.
Still, with five players on each team bobbing and weaving around each other to chase the puck, the game can look like a marvel of speed.
Who Is the Fastest Skater in the NHL?
Currently, in the NHL, there is little debate over who is the fastest player. The fastest player is Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, who won the NHL All-Star Fastest Skater competition three years straight (2017-19). He did not win in 2020 but came in second.
Other players in the NHL also think McDavid is a speed demon, as an overwhelming majority of them voted him as the fastest player in the league.
There are of course other names that could be sprinkled into the conversation, including the winner of the 2020 fastest skater competition, Mathew Barzal.
If you are trying to figure out who is the fastest hockey player of all time, there are even more names you could add to the list. Because speed is such an essential part of the game, some of the best players of all time are at least honorable mentions on the fastest skaters of all-time list.
A popular choice is Bobby Hull. The Golden Jet as he was known was said to have once been clocked at over 29 mph, a speed that almost seems mythical. Hull added style to his speed and was one of the more controversial players in league history.
Another name that is often mentioned on the list of the fastest skaters is Pavel Bure. The Russian Rocket used his speed to win two fastest skater competitions and score more than 60 goals in a season.
His comrade Sergei Fedorov is another candidate for the fastest skater in league history. Fedorov snagged the first-ever fastest skater competition title in 1992 and added another a few years later.
Another name that shouldn’t be overlooked is Mike Gartner. His 1996 fastest skater competition set a record for skating a lap in 13.386 seconds, which stood for 20 years.
Paul Coffey is a notable entry simply because he was a defenseman. What was exceptional about Coffey was that not only could he skate fast, but he could get going quickly and reach top speed in just a few strides.
Whether the fastest skater of all-time is McDavid or another player on this list, the point is clear that speed is an integral part of the game and the NHL has seen its fair share of speedsters.
NHL Fastest Skater Competition
One way hockey fans have come to appreciate the speed of the game is through the annual NHL All-Star fastest skater competition. Every year during the All-Star weekend, the fastest skaters in the league gather and compete to determine who is the fastest.
Rather than keeping track of each player’s top speed or how many miles per hour they travel, NHL players skate a lap around the ice to see who can do it the fastest. The times vary every year depending on the ice, venue, and other factors.
The competition debuted in 1992 and as noted above the first winner was Fedorov. Fedorov and Gartner went back and forth as the two of them combined to win the first four competitions.
The first defenseman to win the competition was Scott Niedermeyer.
While the event has run since 1992, there have been several years where the competition didn’t take place whether due to labor disputes between the owners and players or because it was an Olympics year.
The player that has won the most fastest skater competitions is McDavid who won it three consecutive times in 2017, 2018, and 2019. McDavid was the first and still the only player to win the competition three times and in back-to-back years.
How Do You Become a Faster Skater?
As you might guess there are a good many trainers and strength coaches who have different training programs designed to increase speed for hockey players.
Some have even noted that players used to want to simply improve their overall strength so they could be stronger on the puck, but these days players care the most about speed.
One of the most important groups of muscles many players work on through weight lifting and other strength and agility training drills is the quadricep. This muscle is used when pushing the skate backward and propelling the skater forward.
Others believe that overdeveloped quadriceps compared to other important leg muscles can hinder speed improvement and put the skater at a greater risk for a knee injury.
One thing some ice hockey players do to try and improve their speed is to use special treadmills that are designed for skating. Players are harnessed to the treadmill or hold on to a bar at the front of it and then skate as the treadmill increases speeds.
This work can be done both in season and out and can help improve a player’s speed as well as their conditioning.
McDavid cites his experience rollerblading as the reason he can fly on the ice. By training, skating during the ice hockey season, and then switching to rollerblades in the offseason, McDavid believes he was able to build up his speed over time.
While there might not be as much hard data on whether or not rollerblades improve a hockey player’s speed, it is hard to argue with the fastest player in the NHL and maybe the fastest skater of all time.
Of course, no matter how hard you train, part of a player’s ability to skate fast is due to their natural ability. With that said, everyone can get faster than they currently are if they put in the effort and train for speed.
How Many Miles Do Hockey Players Skate During a Game?
Throughout a 60-minute hockey game with all of its starts and stops, the average player can expect to skate up to five miles per game. Of course, that number can vary significantly depending on the position the player plays and how much ice time they get in a game.
Even the game itself can dictate how much NHL players skate.
Still, if you take five miles as a good estimate for an average distance a player skates in a game and multiply that by the NHL’s long 82-game schedule, you are left with a total of 410 miles skated throughout the season.
That number could be significantly higher if you factor in overtimes and the playoffs. In the NHL, the playoffs can last for months and the team that wins the Stanley Cup might play as many as 28 games on top of the 82-game regular season.
When you add in practices and offseason training, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that some ice hockey players skate more than a thousand miles a year.