Some players can play both wing positions or even switch to center if needed. These versatile forwards are often called utility forwards and can adapt to different roles depending on the team's needs.
Key Responsibilities of a Utility Forward
A Utility Forward should be capable of playing different positions, including center, wing (left or right), or even occasionally stepping in as a defenseman if needed. They must be adaptable and comfortable in various roles on the ice.
Regardless of the position played, a Utility Forward is expected to contribute offensively. They should have a solid understanding of offensive strategies, possess good puck-handling skills, and be able to generate scoring opportunities for themselves and their teammates. This includes creating plays, setting up scoring chances, and being involved in offensive zone cycles.
While offense is important, a Utility Forward should also be responsible defensively. They need to backcheck effectively, help break up opponent's plays, and support their defensemen in their own zone. This includes playing a responsible two-way game, being positionally sound, and engaging in battles along the boards.
Special Teams Duties
Utility Forwards often play key roles on special teams units such as the power play and penalty kill. On the power play, they may be positioned in front of the net, screen the goaltender, or provide support around the crease. On the penalty kill, they may be involved in pressuring the opposing team's power play unit, blocking shots, and clearing the puck.
Depending on their skill set, a Utility Forward may be called upon to take faceoffs in critical situations. This requires having strong faceoff skills, understanding different faceoff strategies, and being able to win puck possession for their team.
Versatility and Adaptability
One of the key responsibilities of a Utility Forward is to be adaptable to different line combinations and game situations. Coaches often rely on them to fill in gaps, provide lineup flexibility, and adjust to changing circumstances during the game.
Communication and Chemistry
Since Utility Forwards may find themselves playing with different linemates or defensive partners, it is crucial for them to communicate effectively on the ice. This includes providing support, making quick decisions, and developing chemistry with their teammates.
Best NHL Utility Forwards of All Time
- Wayne Gretzky: Wayne Gretzky is widely regarded as the greatest hockey player of all time. While primarily known as a center, Gretzky displayed exceptional versatility throughout his career. He could seamlessly adapt to various positions and was often utilized on the wing as well. Gretzky's incredible vision, playmaking abilities, and offensive prowess allowed him to excel in any forward position, making him an exceptional utility forward.
- Gordie Howe: Gordie Howe, also known as "Mr. Hockey," had a career that spanned five decades. Howe played primarily as a right wing, but his versatility was evident as he was equally adept at center. His physicality, scoring touch, and well-rounded skills made him an effective player regardless of his position. Howe's ability to excel in multiple roles solidified his status as one of the greatest utility forwards in NHL history.
- Mark Messier: Mark Messier is best known for his leadership and winning mentality, but his versatility as a forward is often overlooked. While primarily a center, Messier could seamlessly shift to the wing when needed. He possessed exceptional offensive skills, physicality, and defensive prowess, which made him a threat from any position on the ice. Messier's versatility contributed to his success and helped him lead multiple teams to Stanley Cup victories.
- Marcel Dionne: Marcel Dionne is one of the most underrated players in NHL history, but his versatility cannot be overlooked. Dionne was primarily a center but could also excel on the wing. Known for his exceptional scoring ability, playmaking skills, and hockey intelligence, Dionne consistently produced points regardless of his position. His adaptability and offensive prowess make him one of the best utility forwards in NHL history.
- Steve Yzerman: Steve Yzerman, the longtime captain of the Detroit Red Wings, was a versatile forward who primarily played center but was equally effective on the wing. Yzerman possessed a lethal combination of offensive skills, defensive responsibility, and leadership qualities. He could excel in various situations, from scoring important goals to shutting down opponents defensively. Yzerman's adaptability and overall contributions to the game solidify his place among the top utility forwards in NHL history.