Skating is hockey's most basic skill, the cornerstone of the game.
Players who can get up and down and around the ice well generally find a niche somewhere on the roster.
Chip a hunk of rubber off the puck every time you touch it? Focus on playing well defensively.
Too small (or timid) to get involved physically? Hone your passing and shooting talents.
Have trouble keeping up out there (and not blessed with Hal Gill's wingspan)? Might be time to consider a switch to, say, box lacrosse.
Even a modest incremental upgrade in skating can have a profound impact as the play of Penguins left winger Tanner Glass has shown over the past three weeks.
Glass says he is "skating a little bit better" than he did last season, his first with the Penguins.
That's a fair assessment, but the change in his results has been striking.
Glass had one goal and one assist and averaged 2.6 hits in 48 games last season. In the first nine games of 2013-14, he has a goal and two assists and is averaging 4.33 hits, including a career-high 10 in the Penguins' 4-1 victory Thursday in Philadelphia.
"I'm getting in there a little quicker on the forecheck and getting those hits that maybe I was a little late on last year," he said. "And creating some loose pucks that we've had an opportunity to keep in the [offensive] zone."
Glass is a blue-collar winger who isn't expected to make more than an occasional contribution to the offense, but cites his inability to crack the scoresheet last winter as a key factor in his generally disappointing season.
"I think I got a little frustrated when it wasn't going the right way, numbers-wise," he said. "I think I just got a little bit down on myself, and that resulted in squeezing the stick a little too tight, trying a little too hard at times."
Assistant coach Tony Granato, who oversees the forwards, said the Penguins expected a few more goals and assists from Glass last season, but were generally satisfied with his performance.
"I thought we'd get a few more offensive contributions from him, but physically and [from a] team aspect, he does anything and everything to be part of doing things right," Granato said.
"He's stood up for guys, he finishes every check, he has great energy on the bench. He's just a great guy to have around."
Granato suggested that joining a new team last season and having an abbreviated training camp, courtesy of the NHL lockout, had a significant impact on Glass' play, and Glass didn't disagree.
"When you come to a new team and have no training camp, you put pressure on yourself to show your teammates and coaching staff what you can do," Glass said.
"If you don't get a good start, it gets in your head a little bit and you're like, 'Do I belong here? Do the guys trust me out there? Do the coaches trust me?' "
They actually did then and still do now. Likely more than ever.
"He wanted to make a statement early," Granato said. "And he has."
Glass isn't a threat to overtake Sidney Crosby in the NHL scoring race, but seems confident he can continue to put up points, mostly because his improved skating allows him to be more of a physical force.
"Once I get those hits, my offense will come out of the corners, out of the possession time," he said. "If I'm getting in there and disrupting their breakout, getting that hit, creating a loose puck, my offense will come from being in front of the net, causing traffic down low."
Those hits have come often enough that Glass has been credited with 39, one fewer than the NHL leader going into Tuesday, Justin Abdelkader of Detroit.
Glass points to his skating for the bump in his hits total, and not only because he's able to make contact sooner than in the past.
"If you get in there quicker and you're having an impact on the play instead of just finishing the check, [the statisticians] are more likely to count the hit," he said.
Not surprisingly, the off-ice officials who record such things aren't the only ones to take notice of what Glass is doing this season.
"He came in knowing what to expect and knowing what his role is," Granato said. "And he's been outstanding."
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.