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Lethal Shootout Artist

by Brendan McNicholas / Colorado Avalanche

He is, simply stated, the NHL’s most lethal shootout artist.

Since the league implemented the shootout to decide tied games at the end of overtime, no other player has been more dangerous in the tiebreaker than Colorado’s Wojtek Wolski.

Most Shootout Goals
Single Season, NHL History
G     Player               Team      Season
10   Wojtek Wolski      COL         2008-09
10   Jussi Jokinen       DAL         2005-06
8     Viktor Kozlov       NJ            2005-06
8     Erik Christensen  PIT            2006-07
8     Mikko Koivu         MIN           2006-07
8     Ales Kotalik         BUF/EDM  2008-09

The Avalanche forward is 17-for-26 in shootouts during his career, the highest percentage (65.4%) of any player who has attempted at least 20 shots.  Wolski’s closest challenger, San Jose’s Joe Pavelski (58.3%, 14-of-24), would have to convert each of his next five attempts just to surpass that.

“I’ve been lucky enough to come up with a couple of moves that seem to work,” said Wolski earlier this season. “It’s just something I’ve been practicing for years and years. As a younger guy I did it in the OHL as well for four years. It’s something I’ve had to do for a while now.”

Wolski is coming off a 2008-09 campaign in which he tied the NHL record with 10 shootout goals in just 12 tries. He equaled the mark set by Jussi Jokinen, who went 10-for-13 with Dallas during the first year of the tiebreaker in 2005-06. Wolski ranked first among all skaters this season in both shootout goals and percentage (83.3%).

But shootout success is nothing new to Wolski, as he has converted at least 50% in each of his three NHL seasons.  The 23-year old went 4-for-8 in 2007-08 and 3-for-6 in 2006-07. To put that number in perspective, consider that the average percentage for the entire league this year was 33.7% and in four total seasons is 33.1%. 

“Obviously I practice a lot and I try to ask the goalies for help as much as possible,” he says. “They usually try to give me little tidbits of information about the other goalie and sometimes about the ice conditions.”

Wolski’s individual success has led to team success as well. The Avalanche was just 3-6 in shootouts in 2005-06 but has rebounded to go 21-11 in Wolski’s three full seasons.  Colorado was 9-4 in shootouts this year, the second most wins in the league behind only the New York Rangers (10).

Highest Shootout Percentage, All-Time
minimum 20 attempts
Player                                 G       Att       Pct.
1.  Wojtek Wolski              17       26        65.4
2.  Joe Pavelski                14       24         58.3
3.  Vyacheslav Kozlov      23       40         57.5
4.  Erik Christensen         17       31         54.8
5.  Jussi Jokinen               22      41         53.7

His sheer numbers are impressive enough, but it’s his creativity that is even more impressive. Wolski uses a variety of moves on goaltenders, even coming up with new moves on the fly.

Case in point, the Avalanche’s 2-1 victory over Minnesota on March 12 at Pepsi Center. Wolski, who was Colorado’s first shooter as usual, realized goaltender Niklas Backstrom had probably seen most of his attempts, whether in person or on video. So, just as he was getting ready to skate to center ice, Wolski improvised.

“That’s something I just came up with right before the shootout,” he said after the game.  “I’ve done other moves that I like to do on (Backstrom) before. I’ve scored in Minnesota on the one-hander and once on the pull-back, once here in Denver on the pull-back, so I knew I had to do something new. I was thinking about going back hand but right before the shootout, I just thought of something and it worked.”

Wolski skated in, faked twice and then moved way out to his left, pulling Backstrom far out of position before shooting into a half-empty net. Watch Wolski's goal against Backstrom

“He has his go-to move and when goalies adjust, he’s able to use a number of other moves that are just as effective,” said Avalanche head coach Tony Granato.  “He really is difficult to face.”

It’s that kind of creativity which keeps goaltenders guessing and fans on their feet.

It’s what also makes him the NHL’s most dangerous man when it comes to shootouts.
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