What Is the Best Position in Hockey – Beginners Guide 2023

Posted on April 17, 2024 by Dan Kent
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For many people looking to get into playing hockey, picking a position can be difficult. There are a total of six positions in hockey. However, some are so similar that many hockey fans bundle them together. Those two positions are defense and wing, in which there are left and right sides.

In this article, I will go over the best hockey positions depending on your attitude, play style, and outlook on the game overall.

What is the best position in hockey?

The best position in ice hockey is entirely dependent on your play style. A faster skating hockey player who loves to shoot the puck may want to be a winger. In contrast, a player who doesn't have the most offensive talent but a good eye for reading the play and breaking up plays may choose to be a defenseman.

Let's briefly comment on which position may be best for you if you're starting out and deciding what to play.

Winger

If you're looking to play the wings on hockey, whether it be left wing or right wing, you need to have a unique skill set to succeed. Generally, wingers are considered the goal scorers in the National Hockey League and have the least defensive responsibilities on the ice. This is the best position for someone who thinks of themselves as an offensive player.

They're often considered straight-line skaters, as their job is to occupy the "wings" or outer edges of the ice. In the defensive zone, they'll wait on the side boards for a pass from a defenseman or a center to break the puck out. If they don't have possession, their job will be to defend the high corners and the opposition defenseman on their side.

The name is as simple as it sounds. Right-wingers skate up and down the right side of the ice, while left-wingers skate up and down the left, and are pivotal to the forecheck.

You must be a quick thinker and striker to be a winger; typically, the faster you can skate, the more successful you'll have. Teams with fast wingers tend to control the pace of the game. 

In the offensive zone, you'll spend much time in the corners, often taking physical abuse from the opposing team's center and defenseman. So although if you're a smaller player, the wing will be your highest chance for success, don't get the idea that it isn't a position that doesn't require the ability to absorb hits.

Center

The center is arguably the most important position in hockey. If you look at any team that's won a Stanley Cup in the last few decades, there is a common denominator. All of them have a premiere center.

While wingers tend to play the perimeter, the center is in the middle of all the action. They have possession of the puck, arguably the most out of any player on the ice. As a result, they tend to be good distributors of the puck, playmakers, as fans call them, and collect more assists than they do goals

Make no mistake about it, there are still plenty of strong goal-scoring centers. Look no further than Connor McDavid, who won the Rocket Richard trophy in the 2022-2023 season. But most of them are still outstanding puck distributors in combination with their goal-scoring prowess.

To be a center, you typically need size and stamina. The center plays in all areas of the ice and often skates the full length of the ice, unlike wingers and defensemen, who often play and skate in smaller portions of the ice. You also must be strong defensively, as your job is often to assist whoever needs help retrieving pucks in the defensive zone, along with covering the best opposing players on the ice at that time. 

Although not an absolute requirement, the best centers will excel at face-offs. Winning them is critical, especially in the defensive zone, and centermen that are weak on the dot typically do not become premier players in the NHL at their position. They lose possession of the puck to their opponents too often.

And finally, to be a good distributor of the puck, you need outstanding vision, hockey IQ, and the ability to read a play.

Defense

You could consider manning the blue line and playing defense if the offence isn't your thing. Each team typically has two defensemen on the ice at once, a left defenseman and a right defenseman. Typically, a defenseman with a left shot will play the left side and vice versa. However, this isn't mandatory.

Although plenty of premier offensive defensemen are in the league today, your main objective will not be scoring goals but preventing goals from being scored on you. As a result, there is more defensive pressure on a defenseman than, say, a winger. This is because they are often one of the last lines of defense outside the goaltender. A mistake made by a defenseman typically results in a puck in the back of your net.

In addition, a defenseman's play will be in the corners and in front of the net in your defensive zone. As a result, physicality is almost a must. Smaller, less physical defensemen often get pushed around and pushed off pucks.

To succeed at defense, you typically need size, a good eye for the game, passing ability, and physical ability. Yes, some defensemen excel at none of this and are still playing in the NHL. However, they often compensate for their lack of defensive ability with a strong offence.

Goaltender

The goaltender, at least when the team is having a bad night, is often the center of attention. They truly are the last line of defense. There are very few situations where a single player could be blamed for losing an entire game. However, a goalie can certainly be the main focal point for a loss.

Before recent times, smaller goalies did succeed. However, in this day and age, especially in the National Hockey League, smaller goalies are non-existent. You would be hard-pressed to find a goaltender who plays in the NHL under 6 feet tall. Most of them are 6'4 or taller. In addition to this, not only do you need to be big, but you need to be very agile, have outstanding hand-eye coordination, quick reflexes, and be very flexible.

Outside the physical requirements of being a goaltender, there is also the mental side of the game. It can be argued that the combination of physical necessities and mental fortitude makes playing the goalie position in hockey the hardest position to play in all professional sports.

How do you know what position to play in hockey?

Your position in hockey depends entirely on your preferences and play style. If you started hockey when you were young, your coach would likely analyze your skillset and place you in a position where you are likely to succeed.

However, if you're older, particularly in recreational leagues and just starting, you may have to fend for yourself in terms of a position.

Ask yourself if you're offensively minded or prefer to sit back and defend goals from being scored. Most of the time, players will prefer to do the scoring. However, they may not have the talent to do so and may find they're better at defending, thus making the game a bit more enjoyable.

Why are centers important in hockey?

Centers play an essential role in hockey because to be effective, you have to be good at everything. Positionally, a center will often float around to where they are needed. This could be helping a defenseman retrieve a puck in the defensive zone or maybe assisting a winger along the boards. This results in the center having to skate more and also having to have a broader skillset. They need to be able to play physically, pass, read the game, and skate.

In addition, faceoffs are crucial for a center as possession of the puck is becoming increasingly valuable in the National Hockey League and hockey in general.

Overall, the center position is largely a jack-of-all-trades role that is key in carrying the puck, distributing the puck, and, most importantly, supporting all of the other players on the ice. While a winger could make a successful career by simply being speedy and having a premiere shot and ability to score goals, this limited skillset with a center would likely make their careers short.

What is the easiest position in hockey?

No position, if you want to be good at it, is "easy" in hockey. However, if I was forced to answer, I would say the winger position is the easiest in hockey. Unlike a center, who is forced to go to different areas of the ice and assist, a winger's responsibilities are relatively defined. They cover the boards and the upper portion of the corners in the defensive zone, and their main objective is to catch breakout passes in order to relieve offensive pressure.

They generally have more offensive freedom, take few faceoffs, and lead the simplest part of the breakout. With less ice to cover than a defenseman or a center, there are fewer opportunities to make big mistakes.

Again, please make no mistake; the position is far from easy, and a winger who cannot execute their duties is no doubt a detriment to the team.

What is the easiest position to make it to the NHL?

Again, no position is easy in regards to cracking an NHL lineup. However, if you force me to answer, I would say if you're looking to break into an NHL lineup, the winger spot is your best option. The winger has simplified duties, and the position is much simpler. In addition to this, simple supply and demand is a factor as well.

Every team will typically have 8-9 wingers on the roster. When it comes to the center, there will typically only be 4 or 5. In terms of supply and demand, goaltenders are the hardest position to crack, as there are only 2 on each team.

Although a team typically carries as many defensemen as they do wingers, defensemen typically mature and break into the league much later than wingers. They require a more complete skillset to carve a career out in the NHL. So, the answer would still be the same; a winger is the easiest position for making the NHL.

What position do short people play in hockey?

The shortest players in the National Hockey League often play the wing. After that, centers, and you'll often find the tallest players being defenders or goaltenders. Speed, agility, and the ability to outmaneuver larger players are key in the winger position. So, it tends to have the smallest players in the league.

Keep in mind there have also been plenty of short players on defense. Marc-Andre Bergeron, a defenseman who played a decade in the NHL and scored over 235 points, was labelled as 5'8 tall. However, many pundits would agree that this was being generous regarding his overall height, and he was smaller than this.

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada, Stocktrades.ca.

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