The modern game of hockey is emphasizing the need for skilled players. As a result of this philosophy, it is now becoming imperative that each player not only master the general skills of skating, stickhandling, passing and shooting but also the critical skill sets to be an elite player at his designated position.
If you look at the sport over the past 25 years, the clearest example of a particular position taking their game to higher levels would be the goalie. The modern goalie has a system of play and he works diligently at honing all the critical skill sets for his position. Along with training, he studies the position like a scientist and learns the habits of forwards and their offensive tendencies. In addition to his training he often has a goalie coach who trains, teaches and holds his play accountable. So is it any wonder why the goalie is the most dramatically improved position in the sport over the past 25 years?
When you look at the position of defenseman and you watch today's rising stars in the NHL, you begin to notice a trend that is taking place within that position; it is becoming a more skilled position! It wasn't that long ago that all that was asked from a defenseman was to defend the net, get the puck out the zone and, if possible, make a good first pass to a forward teammate to initiate a breakout.
Fast forward to today's game and you have elite defensemen making the first pass regularly, carrying the puck out of their zone, jumping into the rush, being first on the forecheck and contributing to the offensive part of the game like never before.
Of course there is always the defensive aspect of the game for defenseman and that is a very important still in today's modern game. It is a priority for all defenseman to be able to defend well and keep the puck out of his net. But now instead of just standing in front of the goal like a pylon, we see defenseman pressuring more aggressively, interchanging positions with their partners, and defending in all areas of the defensive zone utilizing great skills and positioning.
So if the NHL teams are asking it's defensemen to be more complete in their skill sets and offer a higher degree of contribution on both sides of the puck, you can be certain with the trickle-down effect in hockey, that the same is being asked for players in college, and junior hockey. Year after year the game evolves and the position of defenseman is requiring larger contributions from those who play it.
With that being said, if you're a developing defenseman who has fallen short of making a junior Tier I or Tier II team and are now looking for a strong Tier III or midget team, then you need to place your development as the highest priority. You need to start training like the goalie does for his position. This requires finding a program that will work with you specifically on the critical skills for your position. You are not going to become more skilled and more intelligent unless you have the proper coaching and training.
It is imperative that a developing defenseman finds a strong team where he can harness his skills and develop at an accelerated rate. Doing this closes the gap and even surpasses some of his competition at the position. Many teams don't develop defenseman very well and make them play a safe and vanilla game in order to preserve the win. That may help the team but it ultimately stunts the growth as a developing defenseman.
There is no better position to play for an aspiring player than defenseman. At every level of hockey it is the position most coaches are struggling to fill. The stay at home defenseman that is one dimensional and lacks versatility in his game is becoming less and less desirable. So unless the prospect is playing in the NHL and paid millions of dollars, they each need to work on raising the quality of skills at the position.
The modern era defenseman is a hybrid at his position and offers sound defensive qualities along with the ability to bring offense. This type of defenseman is rarely out of a job and it's the type of defenseman that every young player should be striving to become.
Don't put your game in a box, grow it, nurture it, and expand your abilities and you will not only see your opportunities grow but also your role within the position you play on the team.
If you are a defenseman and you are looking to increase your level of play at the position and want to develop additional skills, feel free to contact me and I can steer you towards some top flight programs that will enhance your game. Don't waste another season and leave development to chance.