As the most regarded defense prospect in the Detroit Red Wings organization since Niklas Kronwall, Brendan Smith faces high expectations heading into his first full NHL season. If his play in three AHL seasons with the Grand Rapids Griffins is any indication, he will meet and exceed those expectations.
Taken in the first round of the 2007 draft, Smith went on to star for three seasons at the University of Wisconsin before turning pro. His first AHL season saw him score 12 goals while recording 32 points and racking up 124 penalty minutes. Last season he scored 10 goals and added 24 assists, and made his NHL debut with the Wings.
In just 32 games with the Griffins this season, he had scored five goals and added 15 assists, on pace for his best season yet. While in Grand Rapids, he has shown consistent improvement, and been helped along by playing alongside NHL veterans like Garnet Exelby, Nathan Paetsch, Brennan Evans and Doug Janik.
He is an offensive-minded defenseman who can use his speed to join the rush, and boasts a solid shot from the point. He occasionally takes the “dumb” penalty, and his physical play sometimes gets him into trouble. He is willing to drop the gloves to defend himself or teammates, something that will quickly endear him to fans at Joe Louis Arena.
In 14 games with Detroit last season, Smith scored his first NHL goal and added six assists. In comparison, Jakub Kindl had one goal and 13 points and Jonathan Ericsson had one goal and 11 points. Both of those players spent the entire season with the Wings, appearing in 55 and 69 games, respectively.
For a team that will be desperately looking to replace the offense lost by departed blueliners Nicklas Lidstrom (retirement) and Brad Stuart (free agency), Smith’s NHL readiness could not have come at a better time. In a shortened season, the fact that he played for the Griffins through the entire lockout and won’t need time to get up to full speed will also be an asset for the Wings. Look for Smith to have a big impact for the Wings this season, and don’t be surprised to see him approach the 20-25 point mark.