To dangle defenders, players need to develop technical skills, stickhandling and skating abilities, but more than that, they have to master one-on-one tactics. Those tactics are what makes high-level technique effective. The fastest hands in the world won’t beat many defenders if they are predictable, poorly positioned, or lack timing.
In order to identify the weaknesses in a player’s one-on-one game and improve them, its tactical process can be broken down into three distinctive components: the preparation, the feint, and the finish. An effective move, one set-up and closed just right, will leave opponents behind and incapable of recovering.
The preparation act of a dangle involves managing the gap, the speed, and the angle of approach, but before that, players have to recognize the offensive situation. They need to scan the opposition to identify specific cues that will help them choose the best course of action: the stick and hand positioning of defenders, the angle of their skates, their head movement, the distribution of their weight.
It isn’t possible to register all of those details, but a quick glance at an opponent’s overall positioning can still reveal an exploitable weakness.
A defender who is off-balance, hunched over, or whose feet point away from the puck is a prime target for a dangle.
In the clip below, Kirill Kaprizov circles in the neutral-zone. Before receiving the puck off a turnover, he first scans the defensive line to find an opening and then the opponent approaching him to know how to beat him.
Feints are more successful when combined with a speed difference. Defenders have a harder time containing an attacker arriving at a high pace. That pace forces them to commit to a stop or risk getting beat wide. Attackers should pick up speed as they close in on defenders, or even better, change speeds, slow down and re-accelerate like Kaprizov above, to manipulate the defensive gap and make opponents hesitate.