Hockey Positions: The Ultimate Positional Guide

Two hockey players battle for position in front of the net.

Hockey is a hardcore sport with an even harder-core fan base, which generally runs in the family. If your dad/mom is a hockey fan, you inevitably become one too; this is how it works. Sometimes this rugged stigma and legacy aspect of becoming a fan can push away newcomers from learning the ins and outs, but we’re here to help by covering the first aspect – positions.

There are five positions: a center, two wingers (left and right), two defensemen (left and right), and a goalie. The center takes faceoffs and scores most of the goals with the other wingers, the defensemen help keep the other team from scoring and the goalie keeps the puck out of the net at all cost.

So, if you are new to hockey or an avid fan and want to learn about how each position is played, the guide will help you on your journey to becoming the ultimate hockey fan.

The Center Position in Hockey

The center brings the puck up ice.

As one of the prominent leaders on the team, the center carries many different responsibilities, but with great responsibility comes great opportunity. They expedite the puck to help assist the offense in scoring and cover passing lanes for opposing teams.

This position is one where stick handling and skating skills are valuable, but the most significant attribute a center needs to have is the ability to think on the fly and make game-changing decisions at a moment’s notice.

What Do Centers Do in Hockey?

Centers are often known as the facilitators on the ice. The center is constantly playing both offense and defense around the middle of the rink. They are the players that skate up and down the ice creating opportunities on both sides of the puck.

When hitting the ice, the first job of this position is to take faceoffs; when the puck is reset, a center is usually the one taking it. They use their critical thinking skills and physical aptitude to make sure their team is constantly in control of the puck.

A center’s primary goal is to create scoring opportunities for their team. They tend to work in the middle of the ice to read the defense and establish their team’s offensive presence. The center does have responsibilities in the defensive zone as well.

The center is usually placed near or in front of the net with other defensemen to give the goalie another tool to dam up passing lanes and shooting lanes. A good center can recognize these lanes to intercept the puck and pass it down the ice to open teammates.

Skills Needed to Play Center in Hockey

As a center, a player needs to be the total package as there are many different duties a center must commit to. Many consider this position the jack of all trades. Since they play near the center of the ice, they need to be in tip-top physical shape to get from one end to another.

While being in shape is extremely helpful, puck handling and skating skills are also essential when playing center. If the goal is to create opportunities to score, being able to outskate and dangle an opponent is crucial.

These players also tend to be more significant in the physical strength and size category. When playing offense and defense, players need to have the physical ability to take out an opposing forward or to bully a defenseman when the time is right. Determining when the time is right is key, which leads to another essential skill a center needs, high hockey IQ.

Playing the facilitator means that the position calls for a high understanding of how the game is played. Coupling a high game IQ with critical thinking skills makes for a dangerous center. When in the offensive zone, centers usually use their hockey IQ to become a support player and make necessary moves to assist the other forwards.

When in the defensive zone, the center should be able to use his knowledge to understand different patterns in the opposing offense to make sure shots are contested, passes intercepted, and one-timers are prevented.

Center Positioning in Hockey

The positioning of this player is all in the name. Centers want to stay in a central location on the ice for various reasons.

When in the offensive zone, the center needs to recognize where its wingers are and stay out of their way if their teammate has a reasonable scoring opportunity. Being in the middle of the ice also helps a center play their role as a passer; it helps them create space to provide scoring assists.

On defense, the center of the ice is also a crucial territory for a center to occupy. By staying in the middle of the defensive zone, the center deters passes and blocks holes to slow down the opponent’s offense and give their goalie help when he needs it.

There are also pros in the neutral zone for centers to stay in the middle of the ice. The neutral zone is a hub of activity where teams transition from zone to zone. During these transitions, a center can recognize an offensive play or the defensive style of a team and communicate this to their fellow teammates, which helps them play their respective roles.

What Numbers Do Centers Wear in Hockey?

Hockey players are technically allowed to wear whatever number they want; however, there are a few unwritten rules that players adhere to.

The most notable rule to wearing specific jersey numbers is that no one wears number 99 because it is officially retired in honor of the legend Wayne Gretzky. Number 66 is also off-limits because of Mario Lemieux.

That being said, there is no limit to what number a center can wear; 13-24 are the most commonly used numbers for this position, but in total, there are 85 different unique numbers only forwards can choose from.

It should be noted that number 19 is held in high regard in the hockey world. This number is usually saved for the team captain or someone who possesses a knack for leadership among their peers. Centers are commonly named team captains in the world of hockey.

Center vs Forward in Hockey

The best way to explain the difference between a center and a forward is that there are three different forward positions, while there is only one center position.

The forwards on a team include the center, left-wing, and right-wing. The goal of the other two positions is to get into a place where they can attempt to score. The center’s role is to assist the other forwards in scoring. While the center can score if needed, they are more of a playmaker than a shooter.

Best Centers in NHL History

Hall of Fame Centers

  • Wayne Gretzky, inducted 1999
  • Mario Lemieux, inducted 1997
  • Joe Sakic, inducted 2012

Notable Active Centers

  • Sidney Crosby
  • Evgeni Malkin
  • Nathan MacKinnon

The Wing Position in Hockey

A winger drops to one knee for a one-timer.

While the center helps open scoring options, the wing position is the team’s leading source of offense. They are put on the ice to attack and score. They must be strong and resilient to keep the puck out of the other team’s possession and have accurate shooting.

What Do Wings Do in Hockey?

There are two different wing positions in hockey: left-wing and right-wing. Both roles are played relatively the same, just on different sides of the ice. The overarching mission for the wing position is to get into a place on the ice, shoot, and score.

The left-wing position is self-explanatory. The left side of the rink is their territory, and if anything gets onto that side of the ice, the winger must dominate both player and puck. These players use their size and speed to create open spaces for shots on goal. They also use their size to battle for the puck when it is on the left-side boards.

On defense, they are tasked with keeping the right-wing of the other team irrelevant. Wingers do this by shutting down passing lanes, intercepting the puck, and keeping opposing players on the boards to not create scoring or passing opportunities

The right-wing position follows the same concept as the left-wing; find an open shot and score, but on the right side of the ice. It is widely accepted in the hockey community that the best shooters are put in the right-wing position.

This position is where the team’s snipers generally reside. Much of the time, you will find right-wingers skating around the right side of the goal, attempting to find an open shot on net.

On defense, a winger’s mission is to hole up the left side of the defensive zone. The goal is to keep passing lanes congested and keep players with the puck pinned to the boards. The right wing’s defensive mission is to force as many turnovers as possible.

Skills Needed to Play Winger in Hockey

While wingers are used for offensive needs, they need an extensive skill set to excel in both the offensive and defensive zones. The most crucial skill a winger needs is a solid shot. These players need to be accurate and effective when attacking the net.

Wingers also need to be able to handle the puck effectively, so that the opposition cannot easily steal the puck. Along with overseeing the puck, they need to have speed and agility on their skates. Being able to move around and maneuver the puck is fundamental when trying to score.

Size is not a skill, but it is also something that coaches look for in a winger. They do not necessarily need to be as large as defensemen but having a size advantage when battling over the puck on the boards goes a long way.

Left-Wing vs Right Wing

The role of both the left-wing and right-wing is fundamentally the same, which is to score. Since teams have both a left and right-wing on the ice nearly all the time, there are some different ways teams can play the positions so that they can complement each other.

Some teams may have a playmaking center and choose to have two agile snipers on each side of the center so that the center can pick whichever side has a better shot on goal. If the team has an intense shooting center, they may choose to play two playmakers on each side to create more shots on goal.

A team may also have an accurate right-winger and a center with an eye for openings on the ice, so they can choose to put a bigger left-winger in play to clear some of the opposition. Generally, the right-winger is going to be the team’s most robust shooter.

While the wingers must score goals, teams have many options for going about that in terms of the winger position. The difference between the right-wing and left-wing positions all depends on the composition of the team.

Winger Positioning in Hockey

On the ice, the winger position is either on the left or the right side of the center. The left winger’s territory is the left side of the offensive zone and the right side of the defensive zone. The right-winger will play the right side of the offensive zone and defend the defensive zone’s left side.

What Numbers Do Wingers Wear in Hockey?

Wingers are much like centers in that the forward position tends to keep to the lower teens and twenties, with nine, ten, and eleven being the most consistently used numbers among forwards (wingers and centers).

Best Wings in NHL History

Hall of Fame Left Wingers:

  • Luc Robitaille, inducted 2009
  • Brendan Shanahan, inducted 2013
  • Michel Goulet, inducted 1998

Active Left Wingers:

  • Alex Ovechkin
  • Ilya Kovalchuk
  • Leon Draisaitl

Hall of Fame Right Wingers:

  • Mike Bossy, inducted 1991
  • Guy Lafleur, inducted 1988
  • Brett Hull, inducted 2009

Active Right Wingers:

  • Mikko Rantanen
  • David Pastrnak
  • Patrick Kane

The Defenseman Position in Hockey

A defenseman takes a slapshot from the blue line.

The defenseman position on the surface seems straightforward, play defense, and make sure the other team does not score. While this is the main goal on the defenseman’s agenda, there is a lot that goes into stopping the other team from scoring. Defensemen are willing to put their bodies on the line to defend their goal and their teammates.

What Do Defenseman Do in Hockey?

There are usually two defensemen on the ice for each team. They have several responsibilities in each of the respective zones and need to know the game inside and out to be in the best possible position and at the correct time to excel at their position.

The defensive zone is where defensemen spend most of their time and energy. For defensemen purposes, the zone is broken up into two separate areas: the slot and corner.

The slot is in between the two face-off circles in the opposing team’s offensive zone. This area is where a team always wants to have at least one defenseman because of the high percentage of goals that occurs here.

The best way a defenseman can defend the slot is by being aware of his surroundings. The more he can gauge where other players are, the more he can make the correct move to defend and interrupt scoring opportunities. If the puck gets put onto the boards, only one defenseman should try to gain possession while the other protects the slot.

The corner is also a prominent area of contention for defensemen. When the puck enters one of these corners, one defenseman should try to acquire possession by any means necessary; this is where those hard-hitting body checks that hockey is so famous for come from.

In the neutral zone, the goal is simple; if the other team is on the attack, the defenseman uses their size and stature to clog up the neutral zone. If it seems like the attackers are going to break through the neutral zone, it is in the best interest of the defenseman to get to the slot ASAP and defend properly.

Uncharacteristic of their namesake, defensemen have responsibilities in the offensive zone as well. First, they must stop any fast breaks that get past their team’s forwards. Second, if they see a chance to score, they need to take it. Last and most importantly, they must do everything in their power to keep the puck in their team’s offensive zone.

Skills Needed to Play Defenseman in Hockey

Like their forward counterparts, a defenseman’s most important weapon is their understanding of the game. With a high hockey IQ, they can decide when it is time to get the puck or stay in the slot in the defensive zone; they can position themselves properly to stop fast breaks in the neutral zone, and they can decide whether to pass or shoot the puck in the offensive zone.

Defensemen also need to have great footwork on the ice. Players in this position spend a lot of their time skating backward, chasing pucks, and getting into the proper position between the puck and the goal.

Stick skills are just as crucial for defensemen. Poke-checking properly can run an offense ragged. If they have the stick skills, they should be able to score from deep if the opportunity arises. Defensemen must also be accurate with their passes to forwards to give them a chance to attack.

Defenseman Positioning in Hockey

The defenseman position is critical in a team securing a win. In the defensive zone, the defenseman needs to guard the slot and right in front of the net if a puck gets loose. One defenseman should always hover around the slot to deter shots on goal.

In the neutral and offensive zones, the defenseman’s number one intention is to position themselves between the goal and the puck. Doing this will help keep the puck in their team’s offensive zone and help shut down any fast-break opportunities.

What Is a Two-Way Defenseman in Hockey?

The two-way defenseman does not specialize in any particular aspect of hockey but can use their skills to adapt to any moment. They can regain and maintain the puck, shoot, pass, defend the slot, and body-check their opponents whenever called upon.

What Is a Stay-at-Home Defenseman in Hockey?

Just as the name suggests, the stay-at-home defenseman is oriented to a more defensive game; what they lack in offensive skills, they make up in hard hits and blocked shots. These specialized defensive players are commonly used to kill penalties or maintain a lead in the third period.

What Numbers Do Defenseman Wear in Hockey?

In the beginnings of hockey, defensemen chose to wear lower numbers, which hasn’t changed over time. Two through eight are the most common numbers used by defensemen, while two, four, five, and 82 are ONLY worn by defensemen.

It should be noted regarding jersey numbers, a common practice in the hockey community is to double up single digits if the digit is already taken. For example, if a defenseman wanted number two, but that number is already taken, he may double up to 22 to reflect his position.  

Left Defenseman vs Right Defenseman

Like forwards, the general idea of the position is the same; the difference is the territory that comes with it. If the puck goes into the right corner, the right defenseman should recover it while the left defenseman stays in the slot.

This also holds true in the offensive and neutral zones. Defensemen need to stay on their respective sides of the ice to ensure that their territory is appropriately defended against an attack.

Best Defenseman in NHL History

Hall of Fame Defenseman

  • Bobby Orr, inducted 1979
  • Nicklas Lidstrom, inducted 2015
  • Ray Bourque, inducted 2004

Active Defenseman

  • Victor Hedman
  • Dougie Hamilton
  • Cale Makar

The Goalie Position in Hockey

NHL goalie stretches out before the game.

The goalie is probably the most recognized position in hockey. A goalie is the backbone of any hockey team. They are quick-witted, heavily padded behemoths who feel comfortable getting in the way of 90+ mph pucks. Goalies are an accurate representation of what hockey is about.

What Do Goalies Do in Hockey?

The goalie’s number one job is not to let the puck enter the net. They use several skills, positions, and equipment to make sure this does not happen. While the other positions play various roles on offense and defense, a goaltender sticks to his guns and defends his net by any means possible.

Skills Needed to Play Goalie in Hockey

As with other positions mentioned above, the experience and knowledge of the game keep a goalie in front of the puck. Their ability to read an attack is second to none. Even before the puck crosses into a goalie’s defensive zone, they should already be reading the opposition’s attack.

A goalie should be flexible as the standard stand-up style of playing this position is no longer viable. Goalies need to contort their bodies into various positions to appropriately fill all the space possible in front of the net.

A goalie must have proper communication skills. When a goalie rebounds, they should communicate to their offensive where the other team’s defense is lacking. Because they can see the entirety of the rink, they can pick up on patterns the other team is succumbing to.

Goalies also need to have excellent stick skills for proper blocks, good rebounds, and successful passes. These skills help both in the defensive and offensive aspects of the game.

Goalie Positioning in Hockey

The positioning of a goalie differs from that of other positions. Those positions reflect where the player puts his body on the ice, while the goalie positions himself in front of the net unless carefully rebounding. It is more about how he positions his body while in front of the goal as opposed to where he is located.

What Is a Butterfly Goalie in Hockey?

The idea of a butterfly goalie is simple, create the smallest amount of space available to a shooter. The goalie will remain low, keeping his knees together and legs perpendicular, building a wall in front of the lower portion of the net. The arms will be stretched out to cover as much surface area in the upper part of the net as possible.

What Is a Stand-Up Goalie in Hockey?

This type of goalie technique is the traditional standard of goaltending where a player remains on their skates and uses their upper body and stick as their primary tools to guard the net. While this style helps protect the upper portion of the net better than the butterfly style, it does leave the lower half much more exposed.

What Is a Hybrid Goalie in Hockey?

This style is a mix between both the butterfly and stand-up goalie styles. The great Patrick Roy most notably used it. It is now the most used style in the sport today.

It involves players remaining in the stand-up position until the puck gets close. If the shot is low, the goalie will drop into the butterfly position; if the shot is high, they use their upper body to deflect the shot.

What Numbers Do Goalies Wear in Hockey?

Goalies tend to stick to the lower twenties and thirties. When hockey was just finding its legs as a sport, goalies were usually draped in the number one or 20 depending on if they were a backup or not.

Best Goalies in NHL History

Hall of Fame Goalies

  • Patrick Roy, inducted 2006
  • Martin Brodeur, inducted 2018
  • Ed Belfour, inducted 2011

Active Goalies

  • Alex Nedeljkovic
  • Philipp Grubauer
  • Semyon Varlamov


What Is a Two-Way Forward in Hockey?

A two-way forward is a forward that plays both offense and defense. A two-way forward uses his abilities to keep or regain control of the puck. They tend to float around the middle of the team’s drive, waiting to create an opportunity. For this type of style, coaches look for players who can force turnovers and have a strong feel for defensive stick play.

What Is a Dangler in Hockey?

A Dangler is a player who creates a distraction for other players by using their stick/puck handling skills. A dangler uses fake outs or dekes when controlling the puck to confuse the opposition. A dangle can be used to describe a scene when an offensive player completely breaks down another player’s defense using dekes and footwork.

What Is a Sniper in Hockey?

Snipers are players who have a knack for shooting goals accurately at a distance. Rarely do you see a sniper trying to check or dangle an opponent. The snipers are put on the ice purely to score goals from a distance. 

What Is a Grinder in Hockey?

Grinders are also a subcategory of the forward position, and as the name suggests, they are put on the ice to make life a living hell for offensive players. Grinders use their physical prowess to beat down their opponent by checking them into the boards, creating open space in front of the net for snipers, and protecting their shooters. 

What Is a Playmaker in Hockey?

Playmakers are usually players who help facilitate the offense into a proper scoring position; however, if the chance arises, playmakers should have the ability to shoot and score themselves. 

What Position in Hockey Scores the Most?

Simply put, forwards are placed on the ice to score. Recently, centers have become more prominent in the scoring department, opposed to playing just a facilitator role. Historically, however, left and right wings are the ones who score the most goals.  

What Position in Hockey Fights the Most?

You would think defensemen would be the prominent position for fighters, but this is not always true. The enforcer position can span any of the regular roles on the rink, both on offense and defense. For example, Brady Tkachuk leads the league in fights but plays left wing.

What Position in Hockey Gets Paid the Most?

The offensive positions are usually paid the most in sports. In hockey, this holds true. The highest-paid players are forwards, specifically centers. This is usually due to their scoring abilities and their talent for creating a more extensive fan base for the franchise.

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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