Traverse City Record-Eagle


July 8, 2012

Ready for the big time

Red Wings have need for defensemen

TRAVERSE CITY — This is Brendan Smith's year.

The 2007 first-round pick is expected to make Detroit's top six defensemen and start the season in a Red Wings sweater.

"This is his year," assistant general manager Jim Nill said. "We need Brendan Smith to be ready. And he is ready. He played very well last year."

When the Detroit Red Wings missed out on marquee free agent Ryan Suter, it was a mixed bag for Smith.

"I was talking to my dad about that," Smith said, smiling. "It's kind of nice for myself. It'll probably let me jump into that position and get a little more ice time. Obviously, he's a stud of a defenseman, so I'd love to have him with the Red Wings organization. Everyone in Michigan knows we want to win. That's why we play the game, and he'd have helped us do that. But I think we have the 'D' corps back there to do it. Personally, I think (Niklas) Kronwall is one of the best defensemen (in the league). He's underrated. I'm going to try to follow suit by watching him on and off the ice."

With the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart requesting and being granted a trade to San Jose, Smith finds himself in prime position take one of those vacancies.

The Wings are left with Kronwall, Jonathan Ericcson, Ian White and Kyle Quincey (who is a restricted free agent) as NHL-proven blueliners. Smith and Jakub Kindl are among the contenders for the other two spots in the top six. Kindl has played in 106 NHL games in the last three seasons, producing three goals, 17 points and a -1 rating — not the kind of numbers the organization was hoping for from the young offensive-minded defender, who was also a former No. 1 draft pick.

In 14 games with Detroit last season, Smith posted a goal, six assists, 17 hits and eight blocked shots.

"I was pretty happy with how I played," Smith said. "And hopefully I can take that into this camp and hopefully this next full season.

"I've been talking to the coaches and Ken Holland and Jim Nill — and they're expecting a lot out of me. And so am I. The big thing for something like this is to show I have been working out a lot. I've put on some weight, but still kept my speed. I think the biggest thing for me here at this camp is to show some leadership. "

Smith is head and shoulders above the other Red Wings prospects on defense, with Ryan Sproul, Xavier Ouellet and Nick Jensen the next likely candidates at this point.

The Ontario native had a brief three-game call-up in November, then received the call for good on Feb. 27 when Mike Commodore was traded to Tampa Bay. In his second game after the trade, Smith scored his first NHL goal in a 6-0 win over Minnesota — the same team that snapped up Suter and Zach Parise.

Smith made his NHL debut in a 5-2 loss to San Jose. He was -2 in 19 minutes in that contest, but rebounded the rest of the way to finish the season with a +3 rating. He also picked up assists in each of the next two games.

"That was a lot of fun," Smith said. "The cliche answer is that it's a dream come true, but it really is. My first game, I played against San Jose and I had some nerves going. I look at San Jose, and their starting lineup is Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, and I'm almost shaking in my boots there. You're adrenaline starts taking over and you're not nervous after that, but the experience was awesome. I got introduced and it was really exciting. My parents were there. It was quite a thrill."

After being selected 27th overall by Detroit in 2007, Smith has attended camps in Traverse City every year, mostly the prospects and actual Red Wings training camp. But with the developmental camp moving north last year, the 23-year-old is the old man in camp.

"I know a few places to go," Smith said. "A few of the places I have to keep the boys away, probably the casino. We have the two teams, but I'd rather have everybody together a catch the beach and enjoy Traverse City. It's such a beautiful town. A lot of guys asked me if I'm upset at coming back, because this is my sixth time. I told them, 'No, any chance you get to come to Traverse City is awesome.' We'll get out on the water, and Chris (Chelios) has his boards, so we'll do some paddleboarding. We're looking to get some tee times, because we've heard there's some great golf."

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