What Are the Six Positions in Hockey and What Do They Do?

Posted on April 17, 2024 by Dan Kent

If you're new to hockey, you may wonder what role each of the six players on the ice serves for a team. In this article, we'll go over the six key positions on the ice and what each player is responsible for on both ends of the ice.

How many positions are there in ice hockey?

In the game of hockey, there are six different positions.

  • Center
  • Left Wing
  • Right Wing
  • Left Defenseman
  • Right Defenseman
  • Goaltender

Not only does each position have a set of specific roles and responsibilities, but different situations force the players in these positions to adapt to new roles and responsibilities. 

Hockey is an exceptionally fast sport. As a result, every position on the team is fluid. Players move as needed on the fly around the rink and as situations change. Let's examine each position as they apply to a typical game scenario. 

What is a forward?

A forward is a player in hockey that plays mainly on the offence. Each forward position has a specific set of responsibilities and tasks they must adhere to for the team to succeed. 

Forward positions consist of the center, left-wing and right-wing. 

What does a forward do?

The typical responsibility of forwards is offence, including shooting and scoring. They'll typically hold the puck more than the defenseman, which we'll get to later, and in the end, will be required to score more goals than the opponent's forwards to win the game.

Starting with the faceoff forwards battle for possession and control of the puck. Their job is to forecheck (pressure) the other team, force them to turn the puck over, and score goals. 

In addition, they also have defensive responsibilities inside of their zone. They are typically responsible for receiving passes from their defenseman when breaking the puck out.

What is a left-wing and right-wing player in the game of hockey?

The wings, or as they're commonly called, wingers, play on their respective sides of the faceoff dot (left and right) and are mainly required to handle their assigned side of the ice throughout the game.

A left winger will typically play up and down the left-hand side of the ice, and a right winger will play up and down the right-hand side of the ice. Wingers often have the least amount of defensive responsibilities. Still, they are key in scoring goals and breaking the puck out of the defensive zone.

What does a winger do in the offensive zone?

In the offensive zone, the winger is responsible for their side of the ice, including the corner. When the puck is in the opposite corner, they typically shift to the center of the ice or in front of the net. So, if the puck is in the left corner, a left winger would be battling for the puck.

If the puck goes to the right corner, the left winger would typically hover around the front of the net to get open and receive a pass from the right winger or center who is digging the puck out of the corner.

What do wingers do in the defensive zone?

Wingers in the defensive zone move from the top corner of the zone down to typically the hash marks of the faceoff circle. The winger is to stay higher in the zone to put pressure on the opposing team's defenseman and be ready to break the puck out of the zone at all times.

If needed to help his teammates control the puck in the defensive zone, the winger may go as deep as the top of the corner. If play shifts to the other side of the ice, the winger will move with their respective point man to the center of the ice where they now cover that point-man and the top of the slot area in front of the net. 

Do you have to shoot right-handed or left-handed to play right or left-wing?

No. Any player can play either wing, but yes, typically, a left-wing is a player who shoots left and vice versa. It is usually not an issue when playing as the positions are fluid, and there is a good chance at some point, you will end up playing on the other side of the ice.

A winger often chooses their shooting side as their wing side because, during the breakouts and offensive rushes, they will receive passes on their forehand or the inwards curved portion of their stick instead of their backhand. 

It is much easier to receive a pass on your forehand, and it is also much easier to shoot with it.

What is the Center position in hockey? 

The center is the first player to touch the puck after a faceoff and hopefully successfully gains control of the puck for their team off the faceoff. 

The center is often the leader, playmaker, and player with the highest hockey IQ on the ice. They tend to have an incredible ability to see and read the play as it is unfolding. As the center, you are typically the first person into the offensive zone and the first person back to support the defenseman in the defensive zone. 

For this reason, the center tends to skate much more than the wings, as they cover nearly the entire ice, assisting where they can.

Where does the center play?

The center's position is much less restrictive than the wingers, but it holds many more responsibilities. We touched on where a winger plays in the offensive and defensive zone, mostly because they're often assigned a particular section of the ice and stick to it. This isn't the case with a center.

The center typically covers the whole ice surface depending on the needs of his teammates at any given time. 

Their job is to read the play to move into the right position to control the puck or create a turnover. From there, they either need to efficiently make an outlet pass to a winger up the ice, in the offensive zone, or control the puck themselves.

What is a defenseman in hockey?

The defense typically appears to have the simplest job on the ice, and they usually stay away from the offensive zone and control the play in the defensive zone. However, defense is arguably the most challenging position in the game, as you are nearly the last line of defense before a puck is inside your net.

Their positions operate similarly to those of left and right-wingers. But unlike a winger who tends to skate up and down the sides of the ice, a defenseman's play typically resides around the offensive blue line and the defensive goal line. 

A defenseman's job is to defend their goalie at any cost, stopping any offensive efforts the other team may present. 

How many defensemen are there in hockey? 

There typically are two defensemen, a left defenseman and a right defenseman. Defensemen operate on the left or right side of the ice just like wingers do, and as the same as the rest of the positions, their positioning is fluid. 

The left and right defensemen work as a unified team, consistently changing their position based on what the other is doing at the time. Defense can switch back and forth on the sides of the ice as it is needed for puck support. 

What does the defenseman do while the puck is in the offensive zone?

Offensively, defensemen are positioned at their opponent's blue line, moving in and out as they see fit to become open for the puck or stop it from exiting the zone and causing an offside. However, they tend to stay between the top of the circle and the blue line and avoid over-excessive "pinching," as they call it, a slang word for a defenseman going deep into the offensive zone. 

They move left and right, with one covering the middle of the ice and being available to sneak in for a shot on the net. In contrast, the other covers the boards, where they work to keep the puck in the zone and the pressure on. 

Suppose the puck is in the left corner below the red goal line of the offensive zone. In that case, you'll see the left defenseman along the boards between the circles and the blue line and the right defenseman between the top of the circle and the blue line in the middle of the ice. If the puck goes into the right corner, they'll swap.

What does the defenseman do while the puck is in the defensive zone?

In the defensive zone, the defenseman's job is to intercept passes, play man-to-man or zone coverage, and, to put it in the simplest way possible, do anything necessary to avoid a goal being scored.

Regarding positioning, if the puck is in the left corner, the left defenseman will typically be in that corner, fighting with the opposition forward for possession of the puck. The right defenseman will be in front of the net, stopping the opposition's players from getting prime scoring chances in the slot. 

Suppose the puck goes into the right corner. In that case, the defenseman will typically rotate, with the right defenseman heading into the corner and the left taking the front of the net. However, this can also depend on whether a team is playing zone or man coverage.

What is a point man in hockey?

A point-man is typically slang for a defenseman who, in the offensive zone, plays what they call "the point" or the two positions at the top of the zone by the blue line. The point-man is usually the shooter or the player with good shooting skills, which makes them dangerous with the puck even from that far away. 

On the power play, when a team has a player advantage due to a penalty, you may see a forward assume the role of the point-man.

What is a goalie?

The Goalies's sole responsibility is to stop the puck from entering the net behind him, by any means necessary, keeping the opponent's score as low as possible, giving their team a chance to outscore their opponents and win the game. Some might say the goaltender is the most critical position on the ice and a hockey team's last line of defence. 

What area of the ice does the goalie play on?

The goalie has the most strict position on the team regarding the amount of ice they cover. Their coverage area consists of the goal crease and sometimes behind the net, within the trapezoid. The goaltender plays the whole game in the defensive zone of the ice.

How can a goalie contribute offensively to the team?

Goalies are not only defenders. They, too, can be a part of the offensive. From their end of the ice, a goaltender can make a stretch pass that results in an offensive opportunity or even take shots at an opponent's empty net. The latter is much rarer, while the ability to make smooth breakout passes to their defenseman or forwards is considered one of the most sought-after talents of a goalie, as it eases offensive pressure and results in fewer scoring chances by the opposing team.

What is the most offensive position on the team?

Typically, anyone can be offensive at any given moment. Forwards, especially centers, are in a better position to be offensive due to the area of ice they cover. Still, you can't count out a defenseman or winger to be the most offensive player on any given night. 

How does one know what position they should play when starting out in hockey? 

Typically, all hockey players start by trying all the positions. Some players are more suited physically, and others mentally for certain positions. Developing the skills to play hockey takes time, which is more important in the beginning than picking a position.

I created a guide on deciding what position you should play in hockey. You can read it here.

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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