People often ask me what position in ice hockey is the most important one.
Ice hockey is played by six players: these positions include three forwards, which are comprised of a center player and two wing players, a goalkeeper, and two defensive players. But which is the ‘best’?
I believe the center player’s position is the most significant one in hockey. They score the most goals, have the highest percentage of players inducted into the hall of fame, and make the most impact in the business end of the rink.
I’ve been a fan of hockey all my life, and in this post, I’ll set out the 8 most important reasons why the centerman is the best position.
List of the Tasks for Center Player in a Game of Ice Hockey:
Here’s what a centerman has to deal with:
- Secure and score goals
- Make sure to complete passes
- Win face-offs
- Support wing players
- Gather rebounds in the opponent’s goal area
- Distract the puck and opponents away from your own goal
- Lead breakouts
- Switch between attack position to defense after puck loss
One can argue that winning a Stanley Cup will almost be practically impossible if the center position is not occupied by high-end players.
A player in center position has more control of the game and the pace of the game as compared to wing or defense players.
A center player has the highest impact in both the defensive and offensive zone of hockey play.
Technically, the hardest position to maintain would be the goalie’s position, however, it is the centerman who has the most significant role to play.
To confirm that the center player is the important one, let’s take a look at some data related to the hockey game that has produced the most compelling and eventful players of all time.
1. Inductees from Hall of Fame since 1999
To know the value of a position in a hockey game is to simply look at the number of most inducted players listed in the hall of fame since 1999.
A total of 24 of the inducted players were centermen (source).
Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were the most notable of all the players on the list.
While the center players made it to the top of the list, what surprised me was that only six of the goalies had been inducted. Being an impactful yet toughest player of the game at the same time is not that easy.
At the end of the day, the Hockey Hall of Fame ranking helps us determine that the level of impact and importance of a player in an ice hockey game was done by mostly the players who were playing in the center position.
2. Centermen as Hart Trophy Winners by Position
Another reason that can help you understand the importance of center position in ice hockey is by evaluating the number of players awarded with the Hart Trophy.
The Hart Trophy is honored to the most valuable player on the team, at the end of the year.
According to the NHL, the player that has been believed to be the most important player to his team (since 1923 awards) has played center 49 times.
The second most valuable player according to the Hart Trophy award has played right wing position 16 times. Even the combined amount of times a right-wing player has won the award does not equal a center position player.
It only totals 43, which is still 6 times short of the total number of times played by a center-positioned player. Although to be fair, the Hart Trophy is favored towards the three forward positions as compared to defensemen and goalie players.
Goalkeepers and defense players have to put special efforts into winning the Hart Trophy, which is why they have their awards such as Norris and Vezina.
Nonetheless, according to the available data of the award, the center player position remains consistently the most impactful position for the success of the team.
3. First Overall Draft Positions since 1980
Best performing players help their team win awards and contribute to making huge differences for NHL teams by pushing their franchise forward. The NHL entry draft is responsible for finding superstar players.
Since 1980, if you look at the chosen first overall draft positions, it has been a center position player 17 times.
The combined number of all the other positions equals 19, and that is just two times less than the center player position.
The names of the centermen who were drafted include Mario Lemieux, Mike Modano, Sidney Crosby, Connor Mc David – and the list continues.
Meanwhile, the other positions have great players drafted as well, mostly flops but the drafted ones include Rick DiPietro (G), Ed Jovanoski (D), Bryan Berard (D), Chris Phillips (D), and Roman Hamrlik (D).
All of the aforementioned players were some of the solid NHL players but still not as impactful as the centermen who were taken first overall.
4. Centermen Score the Best Goals!
The most difficult part in the NHL is to score goals and get higher points. Scoring is something you cannot teach, yet defense can be taught well.
The NHL team management chooses players who can spike up the points on the board, and mostly the players who turn out to lead the most scores in the game are the centermen.
A team can work on improvising their defensive system to make up for the lack of scoring expertise, however, they cannot initiate a system to score higher goals.
While defense play is seen as controllable and could be taught, there is no way to teach a player the art and mastery of being able to creatively score – scoring a goal is a natural ability that a player either has or doesn’t.
Finding these offensive players is difficult and rare, moreover, if you look at the scoring charts at the end of each year, you will find that center player will always be at the top of the list. This is vigorously the case every year.
5. Centermen are Taken First if NHL Players are Re-drafted
Another fun way to know the impact of the “center” position in ice hockey is to consider who would be taken first if all the players were redrafted?
Hockey fans will debate all sorts of possibilities, but you will find most people tagging along with one of the players from the top center’s position in the game.
Some of the common names you would hear would be Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, and Auston Matthews.
Patrick Kane, Nikitia Kucherov, Carey Price, and Brett Burns are also some of the amazing players but they will only be selected after the top center players of the game.
By now you know that building up a hockey team is all about having a strong center position player with creative skills to score goals and faceoffs.
Other positions definitely play an important role in the victory but even if their impact is not top tier, you can still count on your centermen for the win.
The only time winning is impossible is when you do not have a top-line center player.
6. Centermen are the Support Men
Generally, the centermen are considered as the support of the group, as they are holding the team together.
They are mainly in charge of helping out other players in trouble. Also, they are expected to perform as a quarterback to win faceoffs, as well as lead breakouts.
Unlike wing players who usually are sticking to their side of the game, a center player can however roam freely for the most part.
On that note, a center player might be allowed to move and cover most of the ice field and skate along, it does not imply anywhere that a player can only skate around in hope of getting the puck.
A centerman has general duties from winning faceoffs to causing trouble for the opponent team, stopping players, and puck in front of his net.
Also, other duties include scoring goals, making passes, helping fellow team players especially wingers, lead break-outs, and backchecking.
7. Centerman’s Impact in the Offensive Zone
When a centerman is in the offensive zone, the centerman must provide support to the other wing players.
Centerman has to move only until they are required to be on the side where the puck is on.
A center player is always on the move and skating, this makes it easy for them to be wherever they need to be. Now when the centerman is in front of the net, they are reading the play and focusing on the moves of the opponent team.
If the puck is in the possession of a wing player, the centerman calls for a pass and then passes it over to the other wing player (source).
This is the tricky part of the game as all the offensive zone players are supposed to get in front and pass the puck to the nearest team player who can score a goal, which usually is the centerman.
If the other winger is near to the net then the center player will go to the high slot, but if the winger is in the high slot already then the centerman is supposed to go to the “backdoor” of the net.
If the winger gets a pass and shoots, the centerman will screen the goalie and be there for the garbage goal (rebounds).
In case the possession of the puck is not in the hands of any wing player, then the center player reads the play and offers any help that is required to other wing players. This is the part of the play when the centerman plays off as the support guy.
Either the center player ends up helping the winger by getting in the dug for the puck or if the winger already has the puck, the centerman offers to pass, and so on the game continues.
The last thing a center player is supposed to be doing in the offensive zone is switch to defense when the opposing team has the puck.
The opposing team will be attempting to break out and score the goal, while the center player switches to defense and joins his defensive players in the defensive zone to prevent the opposing team from scoring.
8. Centerman’s Impact in the Defensive Zone
The defensive zone is all about being alert and keeping a watch for the puck, to avoid giving the opposing team a score.
While the team is focused on preventing the goal, the center player is also trying to get the puck out while defending the goal.
So when the opposing team has the puck, almost around 3 players are present in the defense slot trying to score a goal.
While the centerman has help from two defense players, one watching out for the puck and the other watching out for the net by not letting anyone get in the open, in this situation the center player is the support guy again.
Only this time the center player will be helping the defense player by picking up on anyone in the open, hanging out in the slot, blocking the cross-ice passes between the opposing team, and by tying up any open man.
For a better visual understanding of the center player’s role in the defensive zone, please click here and watch the video!
The center position is the premium position in Ice Hockey. Period.