A couple of weeks ago, I was asked, "…if you were a coach, what would you look for in a prospective player for your team?" An 18-year-old was asking my advice on what he needed to do to get on to a junior team. So that got me to thinking that it might be helpful to outline the expectations of each position. Well, my interpretation of the expectations, anyways.
These are just the ideal basics, which don’t always hold true during an actual game – particularly when it comes to positioning. Hockey is a fast and fluid game, so nothing is ever written in stone. Set plays are sketchy at best and not often used except during power plays and faceoffs. However, most of the time, players should be in the general vicinity of where their position dictates.
Overall Expectations for All Players
There are different things look for depending on the position, but for any position, maturity (relative to the age level), intelligence (not book smarts but common sense), quick feet and hands, passing ability, being defensively responsible, physical play, and being in the right kind of physical shape are the big ones. Which are probably similar requirements for many other team sports. From there, you can get more specific according to position.
Ideally, a center’s territory is down the middle of the ice from end to end. Very similar to a center in basketball, it’s about being in front of or around the net. Because of that, centers need to be in excellent cardiovascular condition. Endurance is key for that position.
A center should be running the ice during their shift, making sure people are where they’re supposed to be, keeping teammates accountable – that kind of thing. So individual responsibility is pretty big and they should be able to multitask fairly well. Goal scoring is not the primary responsibility of a center. The first responsibility of a center is to set up plays – like a quarterback in football does.
Accurate passing ability is key for this position. Shooting ability is not as important, although most coaches and fans would probably think so. In theory, if they can pass accurately then they should be able to shoot accurately. But sometimes people have mental blocks about things like that.
Winning faceoffs is important, of course, but a lot of emphasis has been taken off of that in recent years. It’s more important to have control of the puck, and simply winning a faceoff doesn’t guarantee that. So really, a center needs to be strong on their skates (meaning, not easily knocked down) in order to tie up the other center to take them out of the play rather than actually winning anything. Winning pads stats and makes a player look better to the people who care about that kind of thing.
Being able to be a third defenseman in case there’s a breakaway going the other way is important as well. There are times when a defenseman gets stuck out of position, and it’s the center’s responsibility to cover for that defenseman if at all possible. While they don’t have to be able to skate backwards proficiently, it does definitely help.
When it comes to the forwards, wingers have it a bit easier then centers. There’s less on-ice responsibility and less territory to cover. A wing covers the blue line in front of his goalie to the other end of the ice on one side. Basically, they stick to their side and do what’s expected of them – which, in most cases, are passing, shooting, and scoring.
Endurance isn’t as much of an issue as it is with being a center. Short, explosive sprints are more important at wing. It’s about getting to pucks first, blowing by defensemen, shooting off the puck before the goalie’s ready – that kind of thing. The focus is more on speed and agility than anything else. Accurate shots trump accurate passes, though passing skills are still important, and having a variety of accurate shots increases your value. Having some of the skills of a center (accurate passing, defensive ability, taking faceoffs) can only help.
Tomorrow: Defensemen and Goaltenders