Ty Smith remembers his dad's sales pitch like it was yesterday.
It was 2007 or 2008 and his minor hockey team was short on defensemen in the middle of a tournament. None of Smith's teammates were eager to drop back and help out, so, as the coach's son, he became the default choice.
"It's fine, don't worry - you can still go end to end," Smith recalls his father telling him during a largely one-way conversation.
Smith, all of 7 years old, was soon blown away. In that first game of spot duty, he learned playing defenseman provided a quarterback's perspective.
"I loved it," the New Jersey Devils rookie told theScore in a recent interview. "I loved seeing the ice from back there, so from then on I was a defenseman."
In 2021, it's infinitely easier to sell the position. Young hockey players can watch Smith and his peers do their thing and conclude that being deployed as a defenseman is by no means a downgrade over being a forward or goalie.
The modern defenseman has a ton of fun. He's in constant motion and often has the puck on his stick. The job description has changed so drastically over the past 10 years or so that it's evolved into a highly influential position in all three zones on the ice. Most game action now flows through defensemen.
Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes, Miro Heiskanen, and Rasmus Dahlin are arguably the four faces of the evolution. Guys like Shea Theodore, Charlie McAvoy, Zach Werenski, and Ivan Provorov are a bit older but nonetheless check off the boxes associated with this modern breed. And then there are dozens of lesser-known 25-and-under defensemen solidifying the movement.
There's no denying a new archetype of defenseman has been established and is thriving in today's game. But how did we arrive at this point? What exactly is the skill set and role of a modern defenseman? And what comes next?