The center plays a key role in both offensive and defensive aspects of the game. They take faceoffs, control the flow of play, and act as a link between the defense and forwards, but also have other key responsibilities.
Key Responsibilities for a Center
Centers are typically responsible for taking faceoffs at the beginning of each period, after a goal is scored, or when play is stopped. They must use their skills and positioning to win faceoffs and gain possession of the puck for their team.
Centers are often considered the playmakers of the team. They are responsible for setting up offensive plays, distributing the puck, and creating scoring opportunities for their teammates. They need to have strong passing skills, vision, and hockey sense to make effective plays.
Centers are expected to contribute offensively and score goals. They need to be skilled shooters and have good positioning in the offensive zone to capitalize on scoring chances. Centers should have a good understanding of finding open areas to receive passes and shoot the puck accurately.
Centers also have defensive responsibilities. They need to backcheck and support the defensemen when the opposing team has possession of the puck in their defensive zone. Centers should apply pressure on the opposing players, disrupt passing lanes, and help in regaining possession.
Defensive Zone Coverage
Centers must be responsible for covering the center of the ice in the defensive zone. They should be aware of opposing forwards entering their zone and prevent them from getting prime scoring chances. Centers should also communicate with their defensemen to ensure proper defensive coverage.
Centers play a crucial role in transitioning the puck from defense to offense. They need to support the defensemen by providing an outlet option for a pass and quickly transitioning the puck up the ice. Centers should be skilled at making quick decisions under pressure to maintain offensive momentum.
Centers often play key roles on the penalty kill unit. They must disrupt the opposing team's power play by pressuring the puck carrier, blocking passing lanes, and potentially creating shorthanded scoring opportunities.
Best NHL Centers of All Time
- Wayne Gretzky: Known as "The Great One," Wayne Gretzky is widely considered the greatest hockey player of all time. He played from 1979 to 1999 and holds numerous records, including most career goals (894) and assists (1,963). Gretzky won four Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers and dominated the league with his exceptional vision, playmaking abilities, and hockey IQ.
- Mario Lemieux: Lemieux is another legendary center who played for the Pittsburgh Penguins from 1984 to 2006. Despite battling injuries and health issues throughout his career, Lemieux's skill and talent were undeniable. He was a remarkable scorer and playmaker, and his combination of size, speed, and skill made him a dominant force on the ice.
- Jean Béliveau: Béliveau played for the Montreal Canadiens from 1950 to 1971 and won an impressive 10 Stanley Cups during his career. He possessed exceptional skill, size, and a graceful playing style. Béliveau was known for his leadership, professionalism, and ability to elevate his game during crucial moments.
- Bobby Clarke: Clarke was the heart and soul of the Philadelphia Flyers during the 1970s. He played from 1969 to 1984 and won two Stanley Cups with the team. Clarke was known for his toughness, grit, and determination, but also possessed excellent offensive skills. He was a fierce competitor and an excellent two-way player.
- Joe Sakic: Sakic played for the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche from 1988 to 2009. He was a highly skilled and consistent center who led the Avalanche to two Stanley Cup championships. Sakic had a lethal wrist shot, exceptional playmaking ability, and was known for his clutch performances in critical moments of games.