Player Development

Developing Skilled Defencemen | The Defenceman Pathway

There are a number of skills required for a defenceman to reach their potential, including skating, breakouts, regroups, 1-on-1 defending, neutral zone defending, shooting, offensive play, defensive zone coverage as well as more detailed technical skills as players' skills advance.

Hockey Canada skilled defencemen

A defender must be a strong, agile skater. Work on the skating basics defensemen utilize in every game and practice and we need to design drills to teach and reinforce these with repetitions. Mimic the agility skills defense use and make these as game‐like as possible progressing from skating, skating with a puck and skating when passing and receiving. Tactical play can then be incorporated such as gap control, angling, reading and reacting.

Breakouts and a key skill for defenders and the essence of attacking. Puck recovery is key and making a good first choice/pass is imperative. D must support each other and communicate (as does the goalie and F’s). Often the simplest play is the best. Practice puck retrieval and breakout options every practice so it becomes second nature. Stress the importance of passing and receiving every practice.

Age Appropriate Defencemen Development Model

  • No position specific specialization until Peewee – ie all kids should play all positions through atom
  • Young defensemen: focus is on physical/motor skills – Technical Skills
  • By mid‐teens and beyond emphasis for defensemen needs to also include perception skills of anticipation and reaction and the cognitive aspects of team play and strategy



Heavy emphasis on skating fundamentals: defenseman specific into tactical drills

  • Breakouts basics: individual defenseman skills
  • Regroup: basic skills/ support
  • Neutral zone play
  • Defensive zone: 1‐1 play
  • Shooting: individual skills


Objectives of the Defencemen Pathway

  • Every practice should include some agility skating for defensemen
  • Teach the skating first, introduce the puck and then where possible, add a player/players to interact with
  • Use drills that simulate game situations as much as possible


» Hockey Canada Development Programs | Developing Skilled Defencemen (pdf)

» More skill development downloads

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