Traverse City Record-Eagle

Sports

September 15, 2010

Wings prospect Smith concentrates on defense

Improving play in his own zone is his top goal

TRAVERSE CITY — Brendan Smith was an offensive force at the University of Wisconsin.

How he fares in the defensive zone, though, will determine how fast the 21-year-old defenseman makes it to the National Hockey League.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Smith is one of Detroit's top newcomers competing in this week's Prospects Tournament at Centre ICE.

Smith, who led all college defensemen in scoring last season, was Detroit's No. 1 pick in 2007. He signed a professional contract with the Red Wings in May.

"It's a great feeling," Smith said. "It was hard to say goodbye to the boys at Wisconsin. I built some great friendships there. But I think it was time for me. I felt I was ready.

"I'm excited and I'm nervous," he added. "New guys (teammates), new lifestyle."

Smith has had a strong tournament. He's a plus-4 after three games.

"We're excited about him," Ken Holland, Detroit's GM, said. "He's dynamic offensively. What I want to see is where his defensive game is at. He's been so good offensively he hasn't had to spend a lot of time in his own zone. You're going to spend more time in your own zone in pro hockey than you do in college or juniors."

It's a discussion Holland has already had with Smith.

"Kenny and I were talking about that — I've got to take care of my back end," Smith said. "That's what will make me a pro player.

"He said, 'You have the skill up front. You have to show you have the skill back end.'"

Smith registered 52 points in 42 games for the Badgers last season. He had 11 power play goals for a Wisconsin team that reached the NCAA championship game.

"We had a great team," Smith said. "Coach Mike Eaves (and his staff) made me the player I am today. I bettered my game there and, hopefully, I can bring it out here and show everybody I'm a professional player."

Detroit signed veteran free agent Ruslan Salei in the off-season, which will make difficult for Smith to jump straight to the NHL.

But he hopes to make it a difficult decision for the Red Wings brass. The Red Wings open camp here Saturday.

"I'm going to try and prove myself here and see if I can crack the squad," he said. "I would love to play up with Detroit. But I would love to play at Grand Rapids (Detroit's minor league affiliate), too. Either way, it's a win-win."

Detroit's top six defensemen seem set with Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Brad Stuart, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Salei. Jakub Kindl, a No. 1 pick in 2005, appears to be the front-runner to stick as the seventh defenseman.

"He's out of options," Holland said of Kindl. "He has to make our team. Our plan is he's going to make our team. Now, if all of a sudden, somebody plays better, we'll adjust. But Kindl spent three years in the American Hockey League (at Grand Rapids). He's gotten stronger, he's gotten better in his own zone. I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do. Obviously, it starts here."

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