Typically, an NHL team has two defensemen on the ice at a time, although there can be three in certain situations. Their primary role is to protect the goaltender, block shots, and disrupt the opposing team's offensive plays. Defensemen also contribute to the team's offense by passing the puck and occasionally scoring goals.

Key Responsibilities for a Defensemen

Defending the Goal

Your primary objective is to protect your team's goal and prevent the opposing team from scoring. This involves positioning yourself in front of the net, blocking shots, and disrupting the opposition's offensive plays.

Breaking up Plays

You need to be skilled at reading the game and anticipating the opponent's moves. This allows you to intercept passes, disrupt plays, and prevent the opposing team from gaining scoring opportunities.

Clearing the Zone

When the puck is in your team's defensive zone, you're responsible for helping your team transition the play to the offensive zone. This involves making accurate passes or carrying the puck out of the defensive zone while under pressure.

Physical Play

Defensemen are often involved in physical battles along the boards and in front of the net. You may need to use your body to separate opponents from the puck, block shots, and win battles for loose pucks.

Shot Blocking

Sacrificing your body to block shots is an important aspect of a defenseman's role. By getting in front of the puck, you can prevent scoring opportunities and help your goaltender.

Penalty Killing

When your team is shorthanded due to a penalty, defensemen play a critical role in the penalty-killing unit. You must disrupt the opposing team's power play, block passing lanes, and clear the puck from your defensive zone.

Offensive Support

While defensemen primarily focus on defense, they also have opportunities to contribute offensively. This includes joining the rush, providing support in the offensive zone, and taking shots from the point.


Defensemen must have good communication skills to effectively coordinate with their defensive partner, goaltender, and other teammates on the ice. Clear communication ensures proper defensive coverage and smooth transitions.


Quick decision-making is crucial for defensemen. You need to assess the situation, decide whether to make a pass, skate with the puck, or clear it, and make split-second choices to prevent scoring chances.

Best NHL Defensemen of All Time

  • Bobby Orr: Widely regarded as one of the greatest defensemen and players in NHL history, Bobby Orr revolutionized the position with his exceptional offensive skills and skating ability. Orr won the Norris Trophy (awarded to the best defenseman) a record eight consecutive times from 1968 to 1975. He was a dominant force, known for his speed, scoring prowess, and playmaking ability.
  • Ray Bourque: Ray Bourque played 22 seasons in the NHL, primarily with the Boston Bruins. He was a complete defenseman with remarkable offensive and defensive skills. Bourque won the Norris Trophy five times and holds the record for the most career goals, assists, and points by a defenseman. He was known for his powerful shot, strong defensive play, and leadership qualities.
  • Doug Harvey: Doug Harvey was a standout defenseman during the 1950s and 1960s. He won the Norris Trophy seven times, tying the record at the time. Harvey was known for his exceptional skating, vision, and defensive acumen. He played a significant role in leading the Montreal Canadiens to multiple Stanley Cup championships.
  • Nicklas Lidstrom: Nicklas Lidstrom is considered one of the finest defensemen of the modern era. He spent his entire 20-season NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings, winning the Norris Trophy seven times. Lidstrom was renowned for his exceptional hockey IQ, impeccable positioning, and remarkable two-way play. He was a calm and reliable presence on the ice, contributing offensively while maintaining strong defensive play.
  • Paul Coffey: Paul Coffey was an offensive powerhouse during his NHL career, which spanned from the late 1970s to the late 1990s. He holds the record for the most goals and points in a single season by a defenseman. Coffey was known for his incredible skating ability, speed, and offensive instincts. He won the Norris Trophy three times and was a key contributor to multiple Stanley Cup-winning teams.