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Smith's future on defense: it's a bright one

Tuesday, 09.2.2008 / 10:04 AM ET / Features
By Dan Rosen
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Smith\'s future on defense: it\'s a bright one

Brendan Smith who at one point played on a scoring line with Sam Gagner and John Tavares is now one of the Red Wing's high-end defensive prospects.
Brendan Smith once played on a scoring line with Sam Gagner and John Tavares. He even skated on a scoring line for the University of Wisconsin in the final game of his freshman season.

"He was a real shot in the arm for us," Badgers coach Mike Eaves told

So what in the name of James Norris is Smith doing on the Detroit Red Wings' long list of high-end defensive prospects?

Because he's truly a defenseman, and a darn good one. Two seasons ago, Smith impressed the Red Wings so much with his defensive skills while playing in the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League that they drafted him in the first round, although he had never played a lick of major junior or college hockey and he was only just learning the nuances of his new position.

Today, Smith is getting ready to be one Wisconsin's top defensemen as a sophomore and he's already one of the top defensive prospects in the Red Wings' system, joining Jakub Kindl, Jonathan Ericsson, Kyle Quincey and Derek Meech.

He's also hoping to get picked by Hockey Canada to play in the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ottawa.

"He's still got lots to learn, but he's like that mustang that you corral and now you have to break him down a bit," Eaves said. "He has those things you can't teach, but you have to guide that energy, spirit and athleticism. That's the part we're in right now, still harnessing that."

Smith started in the game as a defenseman, but when he got serious he also wanted some glory, so he moved up when he joined the Toronto Marlboros Hockey Club.

He played with Tavares and Gagner during the 2004-05 season, but reverted back to the blue line the following season, the first of his two in the OPJHL. The move allowed him to maximize his two-way ability, which eventually got him drafted after producing 68 points during a combined 99 games with the Wexford Raiders and St. Michael's Buzzers.

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Eaves said Smith chose the Badgers in part because assistant coach Mark Osiecki, a former UW defenseman, has a history of turning forwards into blueliners. Los Angeles defenseman Tom Preissing converted while playing for Osiecki in the USHL.

The decision seems to be paying off because Jim Nill, the Wings' assistant GM, said Smith reminds him a lot of Chicago Blackhawks' All-Star defenseman Duncan Keith.

"He's a very good skater, can jump into the play, and has some offensive upside to him," Nill said.

While most prospects view their draft year as being the most important of their teenage lives, Smith said he's just now entering the first critical stage of his burgeoning career due to an injury-plagued freshman season. He missed 18 games with a bulging disc in his lower back before returning to play forward for what amounted to the Badgers' last game of the season, a 3-2 overtime loss to North Dakota in the Midwest Regional Final.

Before the injury, Smith was playing a regular shift on the blue line and seeing time on the first power-play unit. In 22 games, he had 12 points and was a minus-5.

"This season is huge because I want to come out just flying," Smith said. "I already have that first year under my belt. That's a big year because you are adjusting to everything, but this is a huge year. It helps everyone see where I'm going to end up, if I'm going to go the full four years or if I have a big year maybe it's only three years. I want to be one of the top defensemen and go from there."

Eaves is counting on it.

"That's our hope," Eaves said. "There is definitely work to be done, but we think that with his ability, and now that he has a good solid half year under his belt after learning a ton, he should find it easier to play."

As a defenseman, that is, because Eaves said he sees little chance for Smith to move up to forward again, not when his future could be on the blue line at Joe Louis Arena.

"Detroit looks at him as a young, talented hockey player who plays defense," Eaves said. "If he can learn to play better without the puck, he can turn into a well-rounded player and should be able to make the next step."




1 WSH 53 40 9 4 175 120 84
2 FLA 55 32 17 6 153 127 70
3 NYR 55 31 18 6 157 140 68
4 DET 55 28 18 9 138 134 65
5 NYI 53 29 18 6 150 131 64
6 TBL 54 30 20 4 144 130 64
7 BOS 54 29 19 6 159 148 64
8 PIT 54 28 19 7 139 136 63
9 NJD 55 27 21 7 122 123 61
10 CAR 55 24 21 10 131 143 58
11 MTL 56 27 25 4 151 151 58
12 PHI 53 24 20 9 127 138 57
13 OTT 56 25 25 6 157 173 56
14 BUF 56 22 28 6 131 155 50
15 CBJ 56 22 28 6 140 173 50
16 TOR 53 19 25 9 122 149 47


D. Larkin 54 18 20 25 38
H. Zetterberg 55 10 28 5 38
T. Tatar 54 16 17 -1 33
G. Nyquist 55 14 16 -1 30
P. Datsyuk 40 9 21 14 30
J. Abdelkader 55 14 15 -2 29
M. Green 47 4 17 -7 21
N. Kronwall 45 3 14 -10 17
B. Richards 41 5 11 6 16
D. DeKeyser 51 7 8 12 15
P. Mrazek 21 10 5 .933 1.94
J. Howard 7 8 4 .904 2.89