All about the hockey assist: Primary, Secondary, Examples!

When I play hockey I have always looked at myself as a passer before a goal scorer. I love to score goals, but there is something about making a great pass to setup a goal that I love even more. This is not uncommon to find players who pride themselves more on their passing than their goal scoring. 

When you make a pass to setup a goal in hockey you get what is called an assist. Let’s look closer at what an assist is and the rules and scoring around it. 

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First off let’s get the technical definition out of the way. 

What is an assist in hockey? An assist is a statistic in hockey that credits a player with one point who has passed the puck to the player who scores a goal. Up to two assists can be awarded per goal. 

In simpler terms, when a player scores a goal the game gives credit to a player or two (but no more) who has passed them the puck and helped develop the play that has allowed them to score the goal. 

An assist will only be awarded to a player who has touched the puck between the opposing teams last possession and the goal that the team has scored.

In other words, assists will only be awarded between the time team A scores and when team B has last touched the puck. 

Three things to know about an assist in hockey 

  • Not every goal will have an assist – if there is no pass to the player who has scored, and the goal scorer simply got the puck himself before scoring then no assist will be awarded
  • Not every goal will have a secondary assist – if there are not two passes before the goal is scored and only one after a change of possession and the goal then only one assist will be given
  • There is only a maximum of two assists per goal. 

What are the two types of hockey assists?

There are two types of hockey assists: 1) Primary and 2) Secondary.

What are Primary Assists?

Primary assists are given to the last player to pass the puck to the player who scored the goal.

The Primary Assists is the first assist listed after the goal scorer in the box score.

What are Secondary Assists?

Secondary assists are given to the next to last (or penultimate) player who touches the puck before the player on his team scores. 

The Secondary Assist is the second assist listed after the goal scorer in the box score

Examples of assist scoring plays

Let’s go over a few examples so it becomes clearer. We will use the amazing Boston Bruins line of Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak in these examples.  

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Example 1

Bergeron and Pastrnak have an amazing passing play, which ends up in Pastrnak taking a shot on the goaltender. The goalie makes the save and the defensemen gathers up the rebound. 

However, Marchand steals the puck from the defensemen and goes in and scores a goal. How are the goals and assists credited?

The box score would read:

Goal: Brad Marchand (unassisted)  

The opponents had regained possession after the save and those eliminated any chance that Bergeron and Pastrnak would have at getting an assist on the play. Marchand got the puck back after the other team had regained possession and went in and scored without any other player on his team touching the puck.

If after the shot, the goalie had simply kicked out the rebound of Pastrnak’s shot and it went to Marchand and he scored, then the box score would read:

Goal: Brad Marchand Assists: (Pastrnak, Bergeron)

A goalie making a stop does not count as the other team gaining possession. The same goes for if the puck had deflected off an opponent’s skate or leg and went to Marchand who scores. Only possession will nullify the passes that have come before. 

Pastrnak would get the primary assist, which is the first one listed, and Bergeron would get the secondary assist. 

Example 2  

Marchand steals the puck from the opposition and passes the puck to Bergeron. Bergeron and Pastrnak go in on the goalie for a 2-on-1 and pass the puck back and forth five times before Pastrnak scores. Who gets the assists?

The box score would read:

Goal: David Pastrnak Assists: (Bergeron, Marchand)

Bergeron would get the Primary assist and Marchand would get the Secondary assist. All of the passes between Bergeron and Pastrnak does not nullify Marchand’s secondary assist, and Beregeron does not get more than one!

How many points is an assist in hockey? Do they count as points

An assist counts as one point. All goals, primary assists, and secondary assists count as one point towards the players point total. 

Assists Leaders

The top players in the league will average about 1 assist to just under 1 assist per game. If a player is getting an assist every two games they are still doing very well.

Top 10 NHL assist leaders 2022-23

Connor McDavidEdmonton89
Nikita KucherovTampa Bay83
Leon DraisaitlEdmonton76
Erik KarlssonSan Jose76
Nathan MacKinnonColorado69
Mitch MarnerToronto69
Matthew TkachukFlorida67
Artemi PanarinNY Rangers63

All-time assists in a season record

Of the top 12 all-time assist seasons Wayne Gretzky holds 11 of them. He got his most assists in the 1985-86 season, where he captured an amazing 163 assists!

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I am a lifelong fan who grew up in a major market (Calgary), and I have played, coached, and watched a lot of hockey!

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