I spent the majority of my hockey career playing right wing, for the simple reason that wing is really really easy defensively, and allows you complete freedom to do as you please when you’re on the fun side of the puck. I tinkered with playing my off-wing for awhile – I’m a right shot and thought playing the left side might help me offensively, but I ended up reverting back to the right side after realizing a couple minor things about my own preferences when breaking out of the d-zone. That said, if asked, I’d have happily stuck to left. It ain’t that different.
There’s always news around this time of the season that certain players are trying out a new position for whatever reason. It was rumoured that James Van Reimsdyk may play center because the Leafs need a top-six guy down the middle. It’s been said that Ovy is going to try playing right wing this season, and Marian Gaborik supposedly may make a switch at some point too.
In Elliotte Friedman’s 30 thoughts this week, he shared the tidbit I’ll start with:
3. Interesting development on the first day of Washington Capitals practice as Alexander Ovechkin lined up on right wing. Rookie head coach Adam Oates told reporters that the captain suggested the idea in a head-to-head meeting and believes the responsibilities of his defensive system will make it easier on Ovechkin to play there. I’m intrigued to see this. It’s certainly time for a diversification of his game.
As I wrote yesterday, I’m unaware of any system aside from the left wing lock that has different responsibilities for the left and right side (and oh god the Caps aren’t going to try that bullshit, are they?), but okay, I’ll assume they’re going to use something unfamiliar to me.
As for Ovy, he’s a right shot that would be switching to play right wing, as I was. Here’s a list of the differences you’ll notice when playing your own wing, versus playing your “off-wing”:
* When you’re on your normal side it’s easier to take a breakout pass given that you collect it on your forehand.
That said, we’re talking about NHL players, who have roughly zero-point-zero percent of a problem taking laser passes on their backhand side, especially the skill guys. Some of the guys that are labelled “grinders” might struggle without one out of every 20 or so, but in all reality, they’re just fine. If a coach can’t use you in a role because you can’t reliably take a pass on your backhand, bye-bye NHL.
* It’s easier to move the puck quickly, particularly in one-touch fashion on your own wing on the breakout.
Kinda goes without saying – it’s a lot easier to one-touch a pass to your centerman, or even to corral a puck and chip it out when you take it on your forehand. Still: apply some of the notes from the point above. It’s slightly easier, mostly because it takes a second to catch the puck on your backhand, then try to pull it to your forehand – exposing it to the middle – to make a good hard pass.
* Offensively, there’s a huge misconception that by playing your off-wing, your stick will be in the middle when you cross the blue line (think a righty coming down the left side), which allows for a better, more dangerous shooting angle, as Ovy has been doing for years.
This would be true, except for one thing: I can’t remember playing in a breakout that ever required me, as a right-winger, to head directly up my own wing and not provide support for the winger on the far wall. In general, breakouts are designed for wingers to come across and support one another as a middle option or a chip, and the center (who was just low defensively) will fill the far lane.
So as you can see, wingers on their own side end up on their “off-hand” headed into the o-zone often.
There are situations where it makes sense to stay out wide (if you have an open lane ahead and there’s a passing lane, or whatever), but for the most part, I don’t think playing one side or the other necessarily means you get more looks from one side in particular. In general, I feel like any winger in the NHL should be able to play either wing without it affecting them one iota after a game or two. You have moments where you drift towards your old wing after switching, but you’re a 20+ year old human, not an infant. You can figure it out. And, as I’ve said: most systems don’t require more or less effort from either wing.
In all, I don’t think Ovechkin switching to right wing, or Gaborik flipping wings, or anyone doing it is that huge a deal – coaches have long since moved past “we need to dress four left wingers, four right wingers and four centers.” Wing to center, well, that’s another story that we’ll get to another day. But for now, try not to overreact to guys switching to the other side.