For the past three years, you could argue that the spirit of Bay Street has grown on East Avenue. Director of Hockey Operations and Analytics Michael Zsolt has applied the concepts that originated in business strategy consulting and private equity investing to the hockey world.
A graduate of the Ivey Business School at Western University, Zsolt has integrated his education and his love of hockey through a blog called originalsixanalytics.com. While writing for the blog in his spare time, he “learned a lot and met a lot of people from having done it.”
Those connections eventually led to him joining the Rangers as the team’s Director of Analytics and Stats in 2017. At that time, he became responsible for leading the team’s use of stats and analytics as it relates to player evaluation, development, trades, drafting, and in-game performance.
To support his efforts, he’s built a group of dedicated video trackers and analysts that have created an extensive data infrastructure on current players and prospects.
“Our biggest strength is the group of people involved, Data Analysts like Alex Robson and Jonathan Horrocks as well as Lead Data Trackers AJ Willison, Connor Shannon, Wolfram Ott, and Evan Krickler. I give them all a lot of credit,” Zsolt said.
“They all reached out over the years to say they were interested in helping. They’re very committed and do a great job. We’re lucky to have them helping out.”
According to Zsolt, at first, “it was all Excel spreadsheets back when I started, and it’s grown a lot from that – which is something I’ve enjoyed being a part of,” Zsolt said.
“Now, we use coding and database software to help us present it in a variety of different ways.”
These changes have led to the easier upload of information, as well as implementing the automation of data so that scouts and coaches can see the numbers instantly.
“That’s some of the work I’m most proud of,” Zsolt said.
The time spent within the organization has helped his analytical approach and philosophy evolve.
“Just over these three seasons working closely with our coaches, scouts, and general manager Mike McKenzie, I think my knowledge of the sport and nuances has deepened,” he said, adding, “that’s helped with assessing which data might be the most relevant at a given time.”
He also credits spending several years playing high-level rugby for shaping his approach to his current role. He previously won a national silver medal as part of Team Ontario’s (U18) rugby team and an Ontario University Athletics (OUA) silver medal with Western University Varsity Men’s Rugby Team.
“Having played sports at a high level did help with the communication side of things,” Zsolt said.
“When I interact with our coaching staff, scouts, or players directly, I think having been in their shoes and being in high-stake situations helps me convert an ocean of information to the one thing that’s relevant for a specific instance in a game or practice.”
Aside from just making the data available, Zsolt has also made a point of taking the time to promote and educate the value of what he presents.
“We try to take the approach of not having “silos,” where scouts and coaches become separated from all of the data,” he explained.
“The way we can get the most value out of it is integrating as much as possible into our decision-making process, player evaluations, drafting, or trades.”
With the added responsibilities of Hockey Operations Assistant in his portfolio as well, Zsolt is excited for what the future holds with the playoff-bound team.
“I’m looking forward to what we can still accomplish.”