My favorite offensive drills for defensemen ...
In today's post, we look at a few of my favorite drills for defensemen. While there are undoubtedly many more than what we could show here, we think these are good core drills that will give defensemen a solid foundation. These drills are all geared toward
helping today's modern defensemen that need to participate both offensively and defensively. The most successful defensemen in hockey, such as the NHL's gold standard Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar, all have great footwork and agility.
When done repeatedly, the drills below will help improve a player's footwork and transition skills making them more impactful players with and without the puck.
These drills help the defenseman with their footwork as defense more than any other position in hockey requires players with elite, multi-directional edge work. No other player on the ice transitions more in a game from forward to backward, backward to forward, and laterally than a defenseman. Additionally, they need to be able to do this with and without the puck.
I find young players are visual learners, so I like adding videos where possible. Below I've highlighted drills I like for defensemen with some online videos. Additionally, it's beneficial for coaches to see the drills to emulate them in practice. As good as the phone apps that provide drills with animated circles and squiggles are, there is no substitute for seeing the drills performed by real players.
Skating and Edgework
I love skating drills for defensemen that work on transitions from forward to backward and vice versa since this is imperative to success at the position. In the first drill, video courtesy of Quest Hockey, we see a simple use of tires and cones as obstacles for the defense to transition around. This drill is simple but effective and should be a core skating warm-up for defensemen as it reinforces a skill they will need to perform repeatedly (and effortlessly) game after game after game.
The slow motion in the video also offers great detail into the skating technique required. As seen in a later video, this skating drill below can have an excellent progression step by adding in a puck and passing, but best to get the edge work fundamentals down first.
Skating and Edgework - Progression, adding pucks
As aforementioned, we highlight a drill that provides nice wrinkles and progressions from the pure skating transition edgework by adding a puck and passing to the drill. This video comes courtesy of Bronco Hockey. Not only do defensemen need to be able to transition effectively from a skating perspective, but they also have to perform those same tasks with the puck to aid zone breakouts and also support the offense in the attacking zone.
The great thing about the drills below is they require a limited amount of space, so they are perfect as station-based drills for teams that share the ice.
In this second video below, courtesy of How to Hockey, we highlight another straightforward drill, but one that is a naturally occurring play that happens in almost every game.
As illustrated in the video, the puck returns to the defenseman as he (or she) skates backward. The defenseman needs to retrieve the puck while moving backward and then quickly transition to forward, getting his (or her) head up to make a good outlet pass.
Note: This video is 10 minutes long, but the highlighted points of skating and puck transition occur in the first few minutes.
Walking the blue line in the Offensive Zone
Today's defensemen are not just pure defenders but also offensive catalysts. One way to become proficient in the offensive zone is by incorporating the excellent footwork and agility from your skating drills and learning to walk the blue line. By walking the blue line, we mean skating laterally (and not being stationary on the boards) along the blue, getting into better-attacking areas, and finding open lanes to get pucks on the net. The video below, courtesy of Popovic Hockey, does an excellent job of highlighting walking the blue line.
Forwards are getting better and better at blocking shots from the point, and defensemen need to be able to use their footwork and edgework to find open shooting lanes to help support the offense.
Walking the blue line in the Offensive Zone - Progression, add a chip up the boards.
As a progression to the video above, I like to add real game situations to the drill. As the video from F.E. Hockey below illustrates, you're not constantly pulling the puck to the middle of the ice and snapping a shot on the net. Other progressions include coming toward the center but then using crossovers to shed a defender by changing direction and coming back towards the wall or using stutter steps to create deception and misdirection. For more on the benefits of misdirections, please read our article entitled Integrating the art of deception into your game.
As a final twist, I like to progress by snapping the puck up the boards to the point. Sometimes a clean pass, other items off the boards, and other times flipping the puck in the air where the defenseman has to field the puck and get it back to the ice quickly to make a play. Puck bounces are unpredictable. The only way to become proficient at unpredictability is to practice the unpredictable!
In summary, many drills can help defensemen become more engaged and impactful beyond their defensive responsibilities. I like to start by building a foundation by training the feet to ensure the core skating requirements of good edge work and transitions are in place.
These drills take front and center stage and require constant repetition to become second nature. Once a player's skating foundation is solid, they can progress to incorporating puck work with their newfound agility.