May 3, 2012
by Ansar Khan - MLive.com
DETROIT – Brendan Smith proved to be an NHL-ready defenseman this season during two brief stints with the Detroit Red Wings.
He moved the puck well, passing it and rushing it. He played with grit and showed poise for a 23-year-old rookie, picking up seven points in 14 games.
Now he'll return home to the Toronto area and prepare for what he hopes will be his first full NHL season next fall.
“I think I played well and showed them what I've got,'' Smith said. “The biggest thing for me is to hit the gym really hard this summer and get bigger and work my way into the lineup.
“I'm pretty excited to have played as many games as I did, and hopefully that will give me that much more of a chance to jump right into the lineup.''
He will look to add more muscle to his 6-foot-2, 199-pound frame.
“That would be the main focus we've talked about, just get bigger and a little bit stronger, not losing any speed and maybe even gaining speed,'' Smith said. “I think that will ensure me to be one of the top six.''
Whether Smith makes the season-opening roster will depend on what the team does in the off-season. The Red Wings have four defensemen signed for 2012-13 (Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Ian White and Jakub Kindl) and another (Kyle Quincey) who is a restricted free agent and will be signed. It is highly unlikely that Brad Stuart will return.
If Nicklas Lidstrom retires, Smith likely is a shoo-in to make the roster. If Lidstrom returns and the Red Wings also sign a high-end free agent defenseman, like Nashville's Ryan Suter, then Smith might start the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
The Red Wings are apt to carry Smith on their roster only if is he is in the top six, playing regularly.
Lidstrom is high on Smith, the club's first-round pick in 2007 who has played 120 games for the Griffins the past two seasons (22 goals, 44 assists).
“He's got that raw talent that can be a difference-maker, and he can skate with the puck,'' Lidstrom said. “It's just the matter of getting that experience. You have to play to make some mistakes, get over them and move on. So he has a lot of potential.''
Smith said he hopes Lidstrom returns so that he can learn more from playing with him.
“He's unbelievable. It's like he makes no mistakes out there,'' Smith said. “Selfishly, I'd like him back so I can keep picking up more tips from him and keep watching him.
“Is (Lidstrom's return) going to hurt my chances? I don't know what's the plan. The biggest thing for me is to get bigger and stronger and work myself into the six with Nick. That would be cool.''
Kronwall said the NHL experience Smith gained was invaluable.
“He played really well, made the easy plays, played physical when he needed to,'' Kronwall said. “His skating ability is his biggest asset and he used it really well.''
Asked if he's counting on Smith and forward Gustav Nyquist being on the roster at the start of the season, coach Mike Babcock said, “We're counting on them to have real good summers and give themselves the best opportunity, physically, to be here. That's all going to depend on what we do (over the summer) and how well they play at training camp."