Elite NHL Defensemen

Kevin Shattenkirk, former BU player and current defenseman for the St Louis Blues did a nice two part series on Elite Defensemen in the NHL and the premier skill that each player possesses that sets him apart. I highly recommend you take ten minutes and check it out



I thought I’d summarize the high level skills that these players have – all parts of the whole that make up a complete defenseman.

Drew Doughty: Confidence, skating ability, anticipation to jump into the play

Shea Weber: Shot, o zone IQ/sense, positioning, physicality/little things

Ryan Suter: Overall IQ, stamina, on/off switch, first pass ability

Duncan Keith: Lateral skating, smarts, poise, defensive stick

P.K. Subban: Swagger/gets under opponents skin, edgework

Erik Karlsson: Shots through traffic, elusive

Kris Letang: Strong skater, poise with the puck, playing with head up, hand-eye on pucks

Alex Pietrangelo: Escapability (winning loose pucks), shot-blocking, jumping into the play

Wednesday Drill of the Week: D Agility

D Agility

Two defenseman skill drills this week. The first one is on the bottom with the shot, the second one is on the top.

First drill is a simple shooting agility drill. Place a barrier directly in front of a defenseman. Place a puck in front of the barrier. The D has to skate forward, pick up the puck and move to either side of the barrier before releasing a shot. Simple fake and pull to either side. This simulates walking a potential shot blocker and finding a lane to deliver the puck to the net.

The second drill is a D breakout agility course. This can be done a variety of ways in a variety of patterns. The one I diagrammed starts with a D at the top of the crease facing up ice. The straight black lines simulate barriers (or some other flat boundry) while the circles are tires. The D escapes from the net front to pick up a puck. He then waits before exiting the other side of the net tight to the cage. A pull fake at the first barrier brings him to the outside where he has to tight stickhandle between three tires (working on long pulls and wide evasive maneuvers). Then skating straight ahead to another barrier, he needs to pump and pull the puck to the outside before pivoting front to back, retreating behind a final barrier and firing an up ice pass hard to a target (can be a coach or a mini-net, etc). This drill can be changed or altered as you see fit – merely a suggestion for ways D can work on their skating and puck fakes while moving the puck up ice on the breaktout.

Both of these drills will work your D on their ability to be agile and maneuver around would-be defenders. Working on deception is something that needs to happen on a regular basis. A strong emphasis on deception creates a D corps that can move the puck and evade forwards with ease.

Wednesday Drill of the Week: Defensemen Shooting

Agility Traffic Shooting

Two defensemen shooting drills this week. The first drill is on top, the second drill is on the bottom. Both drills are not quite drawn to scale in order to better illustrate the diagrams.

The first drill is an agility skate. Place a pile of pucks at the dot, with three cones in the corresponding zig-zag pattern. The D skates the pattern always facing the net and with their eyes up the entire time (major point of emphasis). Forward skate to retrieve a puck, transition to backwards and skate around the inside cone, then the outside cone, then walk the line. The net should be positioned in a manner such that the shot has to come through the lane between the first two cones. This creates a shooting target for the D – they are not merely trying to put a puck on net, but get it through a certain area.

The second drill on the bottom is a pure shooting drill. The goal is to get pucks through to the net and teach the D never to get their shots blocked. The shooter starts at the blue line. The blocker/passer starts at the faceoff dot. There are a number of progressions to this drill. In the first one, the shooter starts in line with the hash marks and facing the player who will pass the puck. The passer zips a pass out and then skates straight at the shooter, who has to get a shot on net without getting it blocked. The passer cannot go down to attempt to block the shot, merely skate straight at the shooter with stick out and shins in shooting lane. The shooter is allowed to take a step to either side in an attempt to get the shot through. The second and third variations start with more of an angle – the shooter starts on the wall or in the middle of the ice and the blocker/passer skates in an angling pattern to one side or the other attempting to influence the shooter to move/shoot in that direction. The shooter should always attempt to provide false information and a little movement to get the shot though to the net.

Wednesday Drill of the Week: 2v2 Short/Long

Re-starting my weekly drill. This week is the 2v2 Short/Long Drill. It works on rushes from both sides (offense/defense)

2v2 Short Long


Two forwards (F in a circle) touch the top of the circles, exchange a puck and attack two defensemen 2v2. The two D are cannot play the rush until the coach releases them. On a whistle, the D re-gap and two forwards (XF) leave from the near blue line, touch the top of the far circles, exchange and attack 2v2. The drill then resets and re-starts.

This drill is very good for defensemen to work on their rush defense. It focuses on backwards skating, rush recognition, stick position, pivots, and most importantly – gapping. All of these elements are in play for defensemen. To further increase the difficulty, it is possible to add in a third forward joining the rush late and/or a backchecker. The drill also helps forwards with their rush attack options. Forwards should focus on attacking with speed, creating a 2v1 on a defenseman, driving the net, etc.