Away From the Puck

What type of player are you away from the puck? Wouldn’t that be a great pre-draft interview question?

Every scout and organization see it differently, but every one would agree with how valuable and important pre-draft interviews really are.  I’m told for some NHL scouts and organizations those interviews are make or break. In some cases, poor play away from the puck could also make or break for some players ascension in the game. Wouldn’t it be interesting to ask every up-and-coming draft eligible prospect to describe the type of player they are away from the puck?

What do you think they would say?

It goes back to their identity as a player, but do they really know who they are as a player yet?

Do they know what type of player they will have to be at the next level to have success?

Individual skill and talent within the game is off the charts, which is amazing to see. That skill always jumps off the page, but what type of player are they away from the puck always seems to come up eventually when evaluating and projecting young prospects.

You hear “they are always in the right place at the right time,” because that’s their main focus especially in the offensive side of things, but does that really translate to the next level?

The ultra-talented flashy scoring forward or offensive minded puck rushing transitional defenceman always draw the eye or most of the attention, but what happens before those players have the puck on their stick?

What do they do without the puck? Do they hunt pucks down? Do they back check? Do they work as hard for the puck as when they have it on their stick? What type of defensive habits do they exhibit? Can they play in their own zone? Do they actually want to go get the puck?

When they arrive on loose pucks do, they actually compete for it or cheat on the offensive side or wait until someone else does all the dirty work? Again, it all comes back to a player’s identity. Most “one way” players show lots of compete in the offensive zone or when there’s a chance to get the puck and go, but seldomly do they ever really compete for it.

Do these type of players take a hit to make a play?

Do they track pucks through the middle, do they pounce on loose pucks and support the puck carrier in all three zones, or do they hang out on the peripheral or perimeter and wait for things to unfold?

You see there’s so many more questions than answers when you start evaluating and projecting players that don’t necessarily show a ton of intensity away from the puck.

“Oh, they will figure it out,” or “oh that’s just coaching, they will adjust to the next level, when they get there” doesn’t really hold much water these days. A matter of fact most highly skilled one-dimensional players or players that don’t play well away from the puck initially struggle at the next level because they don’t realize just how complete the players really are.

At times it all comes down to the “willingness” to compete and play both sides of the puck. Where and when does the effort and compete level appear?

Are these players constantly trying to “flip the switch”?

When there’s flashes of solid play away from the puck, we often see the potential and understanding of the importance of that aspect of game, but is it sustainable? You see that’s when the player is in complete control of the aforementioned switch. It’s hard to flip the switch when it comes time to play at the next level away from the puck.

Multiple viewings in multiple different situations are critical when zeroing in on young players with some minor issues in their game in any area, but when there’s a constant unwillingness to compete away from the puck it tends to reveal a lot about the player and their identity. It’s one thing that the player knows and is aware of how to play away from the puck, it’s another that they aren’t willing to do it. What type of player are you away from the puck and how do you think that will translate to the next level?

That’s a question every young draft eligible player should be ready to answer.  

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