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Developing Elite Offensive Skills

By Minnesota Hockey, 02/21/18, 12:00PM CST

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Changing speeds, making tight turns, switching places with a teammate and using deception can all create confusion for opponents, providing more time and space to create offense.

Elite offensive players are usually easy to spot in hockey games. Their names become well known quickly, and when the puck finds these players in open ice, people have a tendency to rise in anticipation.

There’s nothing easy about developing that type of talent though.

For former Virginia High School coach Keith Hendrickson, the best thing coaches and parents can do is to help instill a passion for the game, provide opportunities to develop their skills and be careful to avoid putting up road blocks to creativity.

“The worst thing a coach can do as far as development goes is punish players for making mistakes,” said Hendrickson, who coached a number of high end players, including Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen. “I used to tell our high school players when I coached, ‘If you’re not making any mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough.’ "

That doesn’t necessarily mean coaches should encourage or accept mistakes. Rather, it’s about focusing on development over the outcomes of competition, especially at the youth levels, and helping kids learn from their mistakes rather than trying to prevent them. 

Hendrickson points to the influx of small area games in today’s youth practices as a great example of creating an environment that promotes the development of creativity and hockey sense. Providing kids, the chance to spend time skating outdoors, play boot hockey or practice their skills alone at home are also great ways to enable them to try new things and let their imagination guide their development.

Here are five additional areas kids can focus on to develop their offensive skills.

THE ONE-T

One of the most common skills great offensive players use is the one-timer.

“These goalies nowadays are so trained to square up on pucks that half a second delay allows a goalie to square up on you, and there’s just not much room to shoot the puck anymore,” said Hendrickson, who is in his seventh season as an amateur scout for the Buffalo Sabres. “If you get him when he’s still moving, before he’s set up, he’s more vulnerable then.”

Like any other skill, one-timers need to be taught and practiced.

“It’s a complex set of skills,” said Hendrickson. “It’s not just being able to slap a puck coming towards you. It’s getting your feet right and your body squared up right to all those things, and then getting into the spot at the right time.

“We used to work on one-timers every day in practice. We would incorporate it into our flow drills. We want a flow drill to end with a one-time shot.”

Editor’s Note: Players interested in developing their one-timer may consider using a less expensive (or wood) stick in practice.

LIFT UP YOUR TEAMMATES

One of the best compliments a player can receive is that he makes the players around him better every time he’s on the ice.

“I put it in my reports a lot when I talk about a kid,” said Hendrickson. “To me, a kid that makes his teammates better is someone that his teammates want to play with. They know, number one, he’s going to work hard. Number two, if you get open and he has the puck, he’ll get you the puck.”

Players can be just as dangerous drawing the opponents to them and making a good pass as they can with a great shot. When multiple players on the same line are willing to share the puck with each other for the good of the team, that’s when the real potential for exciting offensive plays starts to shine through.

Not the most skilled player on your team but still want to make a positive impact? Focus on your strengths and find a way to contribute.

“Whether it’s killing penalties, blocking shots, whatever it might be, you don’t have to be the most skilled guy on the team to make your teammates better, for sure not to make your team better,” said Hendrickson.

CREATE TIME AND SPACE

Making great hockey plays in traffic is hard.

“A lot of kids nowadays they skate like the wind, they can shoot rockets, but once they get the puck in tight areas, they’re either going to shoot it, dump it or make a kind of panic pass,” said Hendrickson.

The best players figure out a way to create space, buy a little time and then make a play.

“Creating space involves a lot of different skills really,” said Hendrickson. “First of all, you have to have the skills to do it and then understand the game well enough to do it. Make a little cut to your left to create space to your right.”

Changing speeds, making tight turns, switching places with a teammate and using deception can all create confusion for opponents, providing more time and space to create offense.

GRITTY GOALS

“A lot of goals come from the last couple of feet,” said Hendrickson. “If you’re going score a lot of points or get a lot of goals, you’re going to have to be willing to go to the hard areas.”

Only a select group of players are skilled enough to score “pretty” goals on a regular basis, and as the competition level increases, even they typically need to go to the front of the net to score consistently.

“A lot of it has to do with, again hockey sense, timing, getting to the right spot at the right time,” said Hendrickson. “You can make your plays outside the hard areas, but you can’t be afraid to get there either to finish up on a rebound or a pass across the crease to the weak side.”

CIRCLE OF DEVELOPMENT

Last, but certainly not least, it’s critical for coaches and parents to remember the primary reason kids play sports is the same reason kids put time and effort into improving their skills: fun.

Hendrickson has been explaining this to groups for 30 years with a concept he calls The Circle:

“A kid starts to play hockey when he’s a little kid because he wants to try it, hoping to have fun. If he doesn’t have fun, he’s not going to play very long. If he has fun, he’s going to want to spend more time at it. The more time he spends at it, the better he gets. The better he gets, the more fun he has and the circle just keeps continuing. An adult can break that circle by taking away the fun at any time, at any age.”

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Minnesota Hockey, an affiliate of USA Hockey, is the governing body of youth and amateur hockey in Minnesota and the premier developer of hockey players in the state.

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