While it may look like the players are just skating all over the ice with no position there are actually several different positions that these players are in. Each line can make or break a game and can be changed at any moment either by substitutions or by changing linemates. The structure of the NHL positions is similar to other sports, but also unique to the sport in some respects. I’ll be talking about each position, its main responsibilities, and the different skills that come along with each position.
Types of Player Positions
Each player is not restricted to their position. Forwards that typically center could play on the wing and defenders can play in offensive plays. What I will be talking about will be the primary roles, but that is not set in stone.
Offensive players in hockey are typically called forwards, their main objective for them is to score. There are three on the ice at a time, Center, Left Wing, and Right Wing. The players in these positions are typically on the shorter side and a little quicker given that they need to get past the defenders on the opposing team. Their average shift is about 44 seconds.
The center in hockey is typically the main player responsible for dictating gameplay while the puck is in the offensive zone. These players are sometimes looked at as the “quarterback.” One big responsibility is to win faceoffs.
Left and Right Wing
The left-wing is positioned to the left of the center, and typically plays most of the game on the left side, on both offense and defense. And the right wing is positioned to the right of the center. The wingers are very offense-oriented, looking at shooting from the point with wrist shots and slap shots. Wingers are also ones that are usually battling in the corners for pucks.
The D-Man, the defenders on the ice are the main players stopping the opposing team. There are typically two on the ice at a time, a left defenseman, and a right defenseman. Their average shifts tend to be a bit longer than the forwards given that there for fewer defensemen.
The responsibilities of the two defenders are very similar, the differences really depend on the individual’s skill set and what they’re brought to the team to do. Defensemen can also be very offensive and score often.
The goalie, one of the most important players on the ice. He’s the main player who is responsible for stopping pucks from entering the net. He is also the only one that can design his helmet and pads which shows their personality and can sometimes bring some more color to the ice.
This is also the only position that is played by one player the whole game, unless of an injury or the coach’s decision to swap goalies to the backup.
Types of Lines
As I mentioned before there are only 5 players (excluding the goalie), 3 forwards and 2 defensemen. But there are actually 12 forwards on 4 offensive lines and 6 defensemen on 3 defensive lines. Prior to a game, the communications department will put out the “projected lines” of the game for scouts and media to have as a reference that each line can change at any moment. Each of those lines will substitute all throughout the game about every 45 seconds to a minute. And unlike other sports, there are unlimited substitutions.
There are four forward lines: first, second, third, and fourth. The first line is typically your best offensive players, they generate a lot of scoring and record the highest number of minutes per night. More often than not, the first line is who starts the game, but that’s not always the case. The second line consists of your second-tier offensive guys, they provide supplementary support. They still score and make the same plays the first line makes. The third line, often times called the checking line is more of your defensively-minded forwards. Some teams will pair this line with the opposing team’s first and second lines to reduce scoring. And finally, the fourth line, sometimes comprised of the younger, newer guys or the more physical guys.
The defensive pairs are similar in that your first pair is typically you’re more skilled players and your third pair is your younger, less offensive guys. They don’t have as many characteristics about them as the offensive lines do.
The term special teams primarily mean a team has drawn a penalty so there are one or fewer guys on the ice. The two special team units are the penalty kill and power play. The PK unit is a specialized group of four or three players that are on the ice with the team is shorthanded due to a penalty being called for their team. This could be 1 forward, and 2 D-men, and vice versa, or 3 of one and none of the other. The PP unit is a group of five or four players when the opposing team has been called for a penalty, their goal is to take advantage of scoring while the other team is down.