Observations from the Rink: Caught “In Between”

It’s been a reoccurring theme throughout the season with young draft eligible players which is really unfortunate to see. The individual skill level within the game is truly amazing, it’s off the charts, but when it comes time to showcase that skill, some young players are hesitating or appear to be second guessing themselves.

With the Canada Games starting up and playoffs in all of the Major U18 AAA leagues across Atlantic Canada set to go or ongoing, players will be under the microscope even more. Obviously, scouts zero in on the playoffs or major events as critical viewings heading down the stretch.  These events provide an opportunity for players to prove they belong and can excel at this level and that they are beyond ready to make the jump.

Throughout the season many young talented players have been caught playing “in between” at times. Clearly that’s part of the process adjusting to new level, but it’s when these tendencies continue or constantly reoccur that it might be a cause for concern. Many young players tend to overhandle the puck or they have struggled to use their strongest attributes or individual skill at the right times. You see that’s where the instinct, creativity and skill needs to kick in. One can only imagine how difficult it would be to be playing in between.

What causes players to struggle in this area?

Is it processing issue?

Are players struggling to make plays that they think are there that are really not?

Is it a confidence thing?

Why are these players not relying on their individual skill when it matters most?

It’s really unfortunate to watch draft prospects that possess so much individual skill struggle in these areas. It’s not that they don’t have a feel for the position or the game, things just seem out of balance. Often times, these players are struggling to use their speed or their strongest attributes in the right sequences during the game. In many cases these players are so self-aware that they are caught in between that they subsequently try so hard to fix their style of play which ultimately makes things worse. That’s when the confidence wanes and the players in question struggle even more. In many cases players experiencing this phenomenon need to rely on their skills and instincts even more.

Obviously, a player’s confidence is so important and so is their processing or hockey IQ. Every player will struggle at times or have an off game, it’s when those tendencies continue to creep into their game over time that is cause for concern. Often times, it has more to with confidence than processing. That’s exactly how players get caught “in between.” They start seconding guessing their skill when they should trust it even more. How can one see this trend starting and fix it before the player finds themselves in a massive slump or funk?

Well, that’s easier said than done.

Again, what does playing “in between” look like?

Well for some players it’s their inability to drive the net, or getting to the middle, or going to the dirty areas of the ice when the opportunity presents itself.  For defencemen, it’s not connecting on the first pass or hesitating on pinches or when to jump into the play. A lot of young D-men struggle with their puck recovery or routes to pucks which drastically effect their first pass which throws everything off, especially when they want to connect with that seam pass or cross ice pass coming out of their zone.

If players start to struggle in this area and aren’t given the support or guidance, they need at the right times that usually results with long term struggles which will drastically affect their draft stock. It’s sad to say that, but that’s the truth and reality of the situation.

Some will argue that’s where separation between draft eligible prospects exists and that’s true in many cases, but it’s still unfortunate to see players struggling to use their skill set when they needed it most.

Every player has a foundation on which to build, some foundations are better than others, but more importantly it’s where the draft eligible player starts and finishes the process that matters most.

Over the course of the year, it’s been great to see so many young prospects finding their way out of slumps or subpar play. From being trapped “in between” to flying high with confidence and playing free, the level of hockey this season has been great and it’s only going to get better over the next few weeks as the season draws to a close. One of the greatest intangibles a young player can possess is resiliency. Seeing a player overcome “in season” adversity, reveals so much about the player’s and individual’s character, work ethic and determination. When a young player rediscovers their confidence and instinct for the game everything seems to align under the correct trajectory and progression.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.