A growing Badger gets stronger defensively
Smith's improvement is helped by increased size
Friday, 07.11.2008 / 1:17 PM ET / News
By Michael Caples - Detroit Red Wings Staff Writer
|Smith is among a trio of Badgers that were first-round draft picks in 2007.|
“This year I know a little bit more of the drills, know more people, the staff and everything,” the left-handed defenseman said. “So it’s been a little bit easier to get used to everything. The first year was just a stepping stone to get used to things.”
The Red Wings’ 27th overall pick, Smith spent the past season with the University of Wisconsin, where he had two goals and 10 assists while accumulating 26 penalty minutes.
“I think defensively I’ve grown a lot, because of (head coach Mike Eaves and his staff), because that’s what they harp on," Smith said. "That’s what I’ve got to work on, is my defensive play without the puck, have a better stick and my pivots and stuff, so I think defensively I’ve been a lot better.”
Smith is one of three Badgers who were first-round selections in 2007, joining Phoenix prospect Kyle Turris (No. 3 overall) and Montreal prospect Ryan McDonagh (12th overall). But Smith said playing in front of the Badgers’ faithful at the Kohl Center in Madison was a huge learning experience.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I’ve never had a fan base of 15,000 before, so stepping into that … I could barely hear my D-partner, you just look up and you’re in awe, of everything.”
Detroit Vice President and assistant general manager Jim Nill had a lot to say about the Wings’ defensive prospect.
“He’s got high-end skills, he’s a great skater, an effortless skater that really jumps into the play,” Nill said. “Good puck skills, sees the ice well. He’s got high-end offensive skills.”
Nill said that the biggest difference he saw in Smith from a year ago was his size.
“He came here last year at about 175 pounds, he’s up to 190 now,” Nill said. “It’s part of the process, it’s him working harder to get stronger, and it’s partially mother nature.”
Smith said that he isn’t done growing just yet, acknowledging that his size is a big factor in reaching the next level.
“I’ve got to get a little bit bigger; it’s an obvious,” he said. “But I’ve got to keep working on my defensive play without the puck, just like all those little tactics that pro players use, what my coaches harp on, just like a good stick, how to play in the corners without the puck and stuff.”
Don’t expect to see him in the Wings’ line-up this season, however. Smith expects to leave Wisconsin with a diploma, which means he’d be staying there for another three years.
“Right now I think I’m going to get my degree, go my full four years,” he said. “But you don’t really know, depending on what happens with Detroit and everything defensive-wise. Whatever happens, happens.”