I know it is not a unique position, but put me firmly in the camp that is fascinated with the prospect of 3-on-3 hockey. At the most basic level, I think it will be fun to watch. And from an analytical standpoint, I am anxious to see how the game is played and its strategies, how it evolves over time and how it impacts the 2015-16 NHL standings.
On August 31, I wrote HERE saying that the Canes should be working on 3-on-3 hockey at the time. Yes, I realize that it was before real team practices started.
That is roughly where I wanted to pick up today and go a bit deeper into how I think the game gets played.
For me, I think there are a couple radical changes that will happen with 3-on-3 hockey:
1) First, the most radical change that 3-on-3 hockey might be the complete elimination of traditional positions. 2 defensemen with 1 forward mostly leaves the forward attacking 1v2 or even 1v3. I do not think defensemen jumping into the play from behind will be good enough. When possible, teams will want to enter the zone with 2 players. But you cannot play defense with only 1 D either.
I think what we will see from the teams that figure it out is that position and role is completely situational.
–If a team has the puck on the right side on the rush, whoever is closest for the team with the puck will immediately jump into the play on the left side (sort of becoming the LF-left forward).
–At the point when a team loses the puck, the reverse sort of happens. Whoever is already back gets a side on defense and whoever can most quickly get back to the other side gets the other.
2) The defense could look a bit more like basketball. With so much room to skate, I am not sure setting up defenders to cover areas will work. I think it would just give the elite skaters (which is exactly who will playing) too much room to build up a head of steam and blow by people. I think the defense will look a bit more like basketball where you generally defend the player closest to you and when guys get away or crosses happen, you might see defenders switch.
3) “Line” changes will not really exist. It will be more about individual players going off opportunistically when their team has the puck. In a game with this much open ice, puck possession is everything. Unless all 3 players are falling down tired, I think it will rarely make sense to throw the puck deep to just get a line change.
I think skating defensemen who can score will rule the day in 3-on-3 hockey. They will be the most comfortable playing with the puck on their sticks and looking to score but also defending 1v1 in a challenging situation with a ton of space.
Regardless, I think 3-on-3 hockey is going to be a blast to watch, and I cannot wait to get my first looks at it at the NHL level during preseason.