Recently I wrote that it is Niklas Kronwall’s time to shine now that Nick Lidstrom has hung up the skates, but a long with Kronwall, a younger Red Wings blue liner is coming into his own a little quicker than expected.
Brendan Smith, the highly touted Wisconsin Badger star, got his feet wet briefly last season with the Red Wings, but were not able to see a lot. Back in college, Smith was a high flying offensive defenseman that dominated the WCHA. He led all defensemen in the nation in scoring his junior season with 52 points in 42 games, while becoming a finalist for the Hobey Baker Trophy.
Last year, the Wings gave him a shot, but unfortunately he looked like a middle schoolers on the varsity squad at times. He was sent back down to the Griffins for more maturing and it looks like that time in the AHL paid off. He had a nice season last year with 34 points in 57 games, but was only a plus-two and that likely was the reason that he remained in the AHL for most of the season.
I don’t think there is a more difficult position to be in than as a fringe player on a professional sports team. The uneasiness of not knowing if you are going to dress the next game, if making a mistake and giving up a big play could cost you your job. Smith was in that spot last season and you saw how that changed his play. He now has the luxury and comfort of knowing he has a spot on the bench every single single night.
Which brings me to this season where the seas have parted for Smith. Though Nick Lidstrom’s retirement and Brad Stuart’s move west may not seem like the best thing for Detroit’s fan base, its certainly has given Smith an opportunity to step up and show what he can do.
In Sunday’s game at Chicago, Smith looked like he’d settled into his own and we started to see some of the great things he’s capable of doing. He has the speed to rush the puck and demonstrated it through a couple of nice end-to-end rushes in that game. From Sunday’s game, it looks like Smith has caught up with the pace of NHL play and the game has already slowed a bit for him, and it’s only going to get slower.
Right now, with the lack of top level defenseman on the Red Wings, it looks like players may have to be developed by throwing them into the fire – and for now it looks like that approach is working for Smith. He just needs to get more familiar with his role and having a coach with confidence in him is a huge step.
Smith has the skills to make him a 3-4 defenseman this year. His speed and puck control have gotten him to this point and are the same characteristics that will propel him to a top level defenseman in the NHL. Now it’s time to sit back and watch this talented young player blossom right in front of our eyes.