Becoming an NHL player is a process. In general, a prospect must work very hard, stay healthy and have some luck on his side to get a chance at a full time NHL roster spot.
More specifically, each position has its own challenges and lessons that a young player must overcome and learn. A skill a forward must be able to handle is getting the puck out of his zone when a dman is pinching down on them. Setting up a dumped in puck cleanly for his d-man is a must have ability for goalies.
On average, goalies and defensemen take the longest to become NHL regulars. I am not a goalie coach, so I will leave questions regarding their development to those who are.
This week I want to outline a couple of specific abilities a dman must have in the defensive zone.
1. A good stick
This is a term used all the time by coaches. In short, it refers to placing your stick in passing lanes as to eliminate passing options and using it to poke the puck away from the carrier as you check him. Many players keep their stick off the ice. This makes it easier to pass around them. It gives them no chance to take the puck away by jamming their stick at the puck.
2. Body Position
Staying between the attacking player and the net is the key. Maintaining body position will prevent him from getting to a rebound first. After a battle in the corner a d-man should beat his player off the boards. Coming off them second creates a two versus one for his partner.
3. Zone Awareness
Good scorers are able to find soft spots and only require a second to receive and shoot a puck. They can lose the defender checking them by going very high in the zone and then floating into the slot. They also love to go from the strong side to the week side using the back of the net. It gets confusing for the d-zone players as to who must now play him.
Knowing and understanding what is going on around them is a skill that takes the most time of the three listed above to learn but is probably the most important. You cannot play in the d-zone without having awareness.
Some of these skills can be taught with practice and repetition. Keeping your stick on the ice and in the right place isn’t too hard to learn. Awareness needs to be taken a step further. One-on-one sessions with a coach reviewing in game situations are very common.
Becoming solid in the defensive zone is very important for young Defensemen. For most it takes time to learn and master. The AHL is a great place to develop; pro hockey is a lot different then college or junior hockey. Solid d-zone play can lead to a long and successful career even if a guy doesn’t put up much offense.
Without the ability of being reliable in his zone, however, most d-man will not last long in the NHL.
Unique Nick Name??
….I have had a few different nick names. The String bean, Strud and Struddy are just a few. I just found out about another I have been given here in Sweden. Apparently "Struds" in Swedish means Ostrich! So call me the big bird, The Ostrich!
Not sure why no one told me sooner. Maybe they thought I wouldn’t like it but I do! Unique handle! It has also had the positive side effect of increasing my Swedish vocabulary up from four to five words.