Being a great defenseman is about more than being able to skate backwards, having a big shot from the point and playing physical in front of your own net.
And being a great forward is about more than being able to score goals, dig pucks off the wall on the breakout and winning 1 on 1 races and battles.
Here are the 3 critical skills we'll be covering for the defensemen and forwards. These aren't the only skills players need to have to excel at their position, but they are critical to being able to play it effectively.
::: 3 KEY SKILLS FOR DEFENSEMEN :::
#1: Make a great first pass
Ds must be able to make a great first pass in all 3 zones of the ice. Not only do you have to make good decisions while under pressure on the breakout, but you have to be able to pick the best passing option in the chaos of the neutral zone and also know when to go D to D or put pucks back in deep when up at the point. If you're a defenseman, you know this is one of the toughest skills to execute under pressure. You've got to be able to protect the puck, get your feet moving and read your best option instantaneously.
#2: Get shots through from the point
We all know it looks cool when you can get a majestic slapshot off from the point. But does it hit the net consistently? Can you get it off quickly? Can you get it through traffic and create secondary scoring opportunities for the forwards in front of the net? As a D, you must be able to get the right shot off at the right time - and be able to adjust if the best option changes. For example, you may see a lane to the net for a big slapshot, but once you wind up, you see that you're under pressure from a forward. Can you adjust to get the puck in deep or keep your feet moving to create a better option?
#3: Win 1v1 battles in all 3 zones
Defenders must be able to defend. It sounds silly to say it, but it seems that there is such a premium placed on offensive defensemen these days that the art of defending seems to be getting lost a bit. As a D, you must be able to defend the front of your net effectively by moving out bodies and controlling the attacker's stick. You have to be able to step-up effectively in the neutral zone to keep the attacking team from getting an easy entry into your in-zone. And you must be able to pinch down the wall effectively and come up with the puck, the body or both. This all requires excellent skating skills, great stick positioning and the ability to read the play quickly and make the right decision.
::: 3 KEY SKILLS FOR FORWARDS :::
#1: Generate scoring chances
Not everyone is a 50 goal scorer. You don't have to fill the net every game, but do you know how to use the right shot at the right time? Do you know how to get your body in the right position to put the puck in the net quickly? Can you get shots through to the net on 2 on 1s that generate juicy rebounds that your linemates can put in the back of the net? Quick release shooting is critical to generating scoring chances, as is being able to find yourself time and space in the scoring areas with smart timing and body positioning.
#2: Manage the puck
Puck protection is an important skill for defensemen as well, but it is especially critical for forwards. Can you protect the puck along the boards on the breakout to make sure you get it out? Can you win battles in the corner in the offensive zone? Do you know how to drive around a defenseman without putting the puck in a position where it can be taken away? Managing the puck means knowing when to hold onto the puck and when to move it. There's nothing worse than watching a forward work hard to win a battle down low only to have them throw it out into the slot blindly and have it end up as a breakout pass for the opposition. That's puck management.
#3: Ability to break into openings
In my opinion, your ability to read time and space on the ice is the #1 ability that separates good players from great players. Do you understand when you should be going full-speed and when you need to slow down and "save" ice? Are you patient when you're in the slot waiting for the pass or do you jump down too early and end up in traffic without any time or space to release the puck? Being able to do this effectively is absolutely crucial if you want to get to and play at the next level.
Becoming an elite hockey player is about more than being able to skate, shoot, pass, check and handle the puck effectively. You must be great at the details of your position if you want to get to, and excel at, the next level.
Feel free to share this with any teammates, friends and coaches who might be interested in the information.
Your friend and coach,