SEATTLE -- When the NHL celebrated its centennial anniversary in 2017, the league named its top 100 players of all-time. NHL Seattle's new general manager, Ron Francis, made the list.
Bryan Trottier won four straight Stanley Cups with the 1980s New York Islanders and then two more consecutive Cups (1991 and 1992) as teammates with Francis in Pittsburgh. Trottier is a Top 100 player himself, but he says he learned something every game from Francis.
"Ron saw the ice so well," says Trottier.
Seeing the ice. It's the first building block of what hockey operations staffers call hockey sense or hockey IQ. The terms are interchangeable.
For example, here's how Vancouver Canucks winger Brock Boeser describes his young centerman teammate Elias Pettersson: "He sees the entire ice. He changes direction, turns on a dime, finds the open guy."
Trottier says Francis was always thinking a few steps ahead of his opponents-and sometimes even his own teammates.
'Thinking a few steps ahead' is a second building block of hockey IQ.
"Ron was very insightful," says Trottier. "Anything the opposition might be doing, he would have a strategy about what to do [to counter]. He would say, 'what do think if we do this on the forecheck' or 'I saw this on the penalty kill, let's try this.'"
Trottier sits with the memory for a beat.
"I love that," Trottier continues. "He was an intelligent player, soft hands for passing and scoring, Ronnie is the full package."
No doubt Francis will be looking for "full package" players himself as he scouts at all levels in advance of the NHL Expansion Draft and NHL Entry Draft in June 2021. In fact, Francis is evaluating players and networking with NHL executives this week at the 2019 World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, MI.
"Hockey IQ is understanding where the game is going to go before it starts to happen," says Francis. "We will be watching players to see if they pick up decisions, see things happen before they happen. Whether they make the right read on a defensive play and cover the right guy. Or offensively get to the right hole [spot on the ice] to anticipate where the puck is going to be."
A third building block of hockey IQ is playing alongside teammates, maximizing each player's talents for the greater result of the team.
Mike Vellucci served as assistant general manager to Francis for three seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes. He also coached the Charlotte Checkers, Carolina's American Hockey League affiliate, to the AHL championship this year.
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"Ron shared his vision about the kind of players wants on a team," says Vellucci. "He wants high hockey IQ players who play the game the right way, both ends of the ice. Part of developing young players is how they play together and you hope they have the same high hockey IQ."
Sometimes the high hockey IQ player, namely Francis, will empower the super-powered skills of a teammate even if he is an 18-year-old in his first NHL season, namely Jaromír Jagr. Francis assisted on 110 Jagr goals during their days winning lots of games in Pittsburgh. Like Francis (No. 5), Jagr (No. 2) is an all-time top five scorer.
"Ron was a great passer," says Jagr. "He was a great defensive player too. I didn't have to worry about backchecking or playing defense [when on the ice together]. I knew I was going to get the puck every time I needed it."