TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Jack Ramsey has been a forward ever since he picked up a hockey stick for the first time. But after 17 years, he’s making the transition to defense and he's doing so while making the jump to the pros.
"Honestly I wasn't that surprised,” Ramsey said, in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago, when asked what his reaction was when the team approached him about making the change. “It was brought up throughout college about possibly doing it but we had a pretty good D core throughout my college years so that never happened. I always thought it was a possibility so I wasn't completely shocked when it happened."
Originally drafted by the Blackhawks in the seventh round (No. 208 overall) in 2014, Ramsey spent the past four years at the University of Minnesota. He appeared in 143 total games and scored only eight goals.
Ramsey was always viewed as a defensive-minded winger and is one of the guys you throw out there when trying to protect a lead or kill a penalty. So being reliable in his own end is already part of his DNA.
“Obviously I wasn't a prolific scorer in college,” Ramsey said with a smile. “I'm tall, lengthy, long stick. I think the tangibles are there to be a good defenseman. All the basics are there and now it's just incorporating everything else, all these little things to get better at the position."
Ramsey is built like a shutdown defenseman. He's 6-foot-3, 185 pounds and plays big, too. The Blackhawks felt like his defensive instincts made him a more natural fit to play on defense and, if it translates in a way they're hoping, it could help prolong his career in the pros.
"He's a big, strong, athletic, smart kid," Blackhawks director of player development Mark Eaton said of Ramsey, who signed a one-year AHL contract in May with the Rockford IceHogs. "When the time came to make the decision to bring him into the organization it was probably a much tougher path for him to go the forward ranks. I know Indianapolis [Blackhawks' ECHL affiliate] at the time needed defensemen and he agreed to the switch and finished the year well in Indianapolis.
"He's starting to identify as a defenseman now and embrace the change and looking at his game [Friday] he has a lot of good qualities: the smarts, he can play within himself and just be an effective defender."
But the transition obviously has its challenges. While the sport hasn't changed, Ramsey's place on the ice has.
"Just seeing the game from a whole different spot,” he said. “In the offensive zone you're always in the corner grinding and trying to work it down low, and now all of a sudden you're at the point, you're seeing something completely different. In the D zone I was a winger so you know I'm up top, now I'm in the corners in the D zone. Whole new perspective, taking rushes and everything like that so everything is new. This is a great weekend to take everything in."
Despite part of the reasoning for the switch being that the Blackhawks felt like there was a better path for Ramsey to move up the ranks in the organization as a defenseman than a forward, Ramsey is committed to his new position for the long haul.
"I'm a defensive-minded forward,” Ramsey said. “I've always been like that, always been proud of penalty killing abilities and stuff like that, so I think it's for sure long term and I'm excited for it. I talked to my family and friends back home and they asked me how I like it and what not and I said, 'You play hockey for 17 years at one position, you think you know everything about the position then you get a switch and I'm 23 years old and I'm learning all these new things about hockey so it's pretty cool.'"