Try playing the off wing for a change of pace
When new players hit the ice, the first thing we often ask them is, “Do you shoot left or right?”
Based on their answer, we decide if they should play on the left or right side. The general advice is that if you shoot left you play left, and vice-versa for the right. There are some clear advantages to this approach, but there are also good reasons—particularly for forwards—to try playing on the opposite side. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of each approach.
On the Defensive
In the defensive zone, playing on your strong side puts you in a better position to help clear the puck out of your end. This is especially important for defensemen, who want to maximize the amount of control they have when the puck is in a dangerous space.
For wingers, it’s a similar story. In the defensive zone, a key role of the winger is to help move the puck up ice. When a defenseman wants to pass the puck up the boards to the winger for a breakout, the winger will be in a position to receive the pass on their forehand and make the next play. Wingers who play the off wing have to receive the same pass on their backhand; this is a tricky skill to master, which can weaken the breakout. To offset that, the winger on the off wing should put their back to the boards to receive the pass.
For those who may be left- or right-eye dominant, playing the off wing can be a benefit. In this instance, it may help to compensate for a player who shoots left but plays on the right (or vice versa).
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Even in the offensive zone, defensemen are better positioned on their strong hand because it helps them control the puck along the boards at the blueline more effectively. Plus it sets up them for good D-to-D passes.
However, wingers skating into the offensive zone often find success breaking out when they play the off wing. That’s because they enter the offensive zone with their stick toward the center of the ice, which creates more options for moving the puck around. More importantly, it provides a better angle for taking a strong forehand shot on goal from a prime mid-ice location. Wingers coming in from their strong side will have their stick along the boards, which takes more work (and more time) to move into a good shooting position.
According to nhlspecialteams.com, at even strength the majority of professional hockey players choose to play their strong sides, and for numerous reasons. However, those who possess stronger puck handling skills often elect to play the off wing as it offers more direct shooting angles.
The trade-off comes along the boards, where a winger on their weak side might have more trouble picking up a puck. However, some would argue that the extra scoring potential is worth it.
This previously published post has been updated. Published with permission of CARHA Hockey. CARHA works to develop and deliver hockey resources that assist team, league and tournament organizers across Canada and around the world.
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I just wanted to come back to this article and post on it instead of the threads. In player development it’s soooo important to play each young skater in every position, at least in practices and scrimmages. As they get older they’ll end up all over the ice anyway, so it gives them a taste.
As a forward I’ve found that I like to play left wing as a RH shot. I can grab the puck on the boards and circle back a little to clear the puck to my center or the right wing breaking out. But, when I trail, I’ll come out up the middle and simply be the 3rd forward up high and just fill in.
There are positives and negatives to both. Especially when trying to scoop a puck up off of the boards on your back hand. But, I’ve noticed, I’ll usually circle behind the net if I enter the O zone on the right side anyway.
Basically, I feel like it’s truly important to practice both sides and center.
Thanks, Jason. I agree with your point about player development. But I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all when it comes to position preference. I believe it’s wherever a player feels most comfortable.