Brendan Smith is a tough one to place. Whether it’s attempting to position him in a line up, determine his role, understand his best attributes, even the Wings coaching staff struggle with it. Sometimes a healthy scratch in the regular season only to draw into the lineup when a playoff series isn’t going to plan. He’s still somewhat fresh though, right? Only three seasons playing 60+ games under his belt but already a decade removed from being a first round pick next year, we’re going to try and predict one of Detroit’s most unpredictable roster players.
Born in Etobicoke, Ontario, this 6’2″ Canadian boy spent his early years developing in the Toronto junior hockey program. He opted for the college route though, where he spent three seasons at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he was actually named a Hobey Baker finalist and also won the WCHA’s Defensive Player of the Year award. His first AHL season was promising as well, but in true Detroit fashion he was left there to develop for multiple years. He spent time sidelined repeatedly by injuries but still managed to carve out an important role for himself. There’s a feeling among Wings’ fans they have yet to see what he can do in a steady role.
LAST YEAR’S STATS
In just 63 appearances last season, he managed to net 15 points (3-12) and rack up 62 PIMs. Despite seeing less game play than a lot of the other roster players, he really only sits behind Justin Abdelkader in PIMs over the last three seasons, a stat I don’t think many expect out of him. Being one of the few players to register fighting majors though over those last few seasons on the Red Wings can run up the tally quick though, even when sometimes you bite off a little more than you can chew:
— NBCSN (@NBCSN) April 21, 2014
Many last year pointed to Smith’s 5v5 CORSI for rating which sat at just over 56%. While that looks great, he was one of the Wings most sheltered defensemen going up against team’s weakest competition. He stayed on the positive side of both goals and scoring chances for though and that was without an inflated PDO. What it does show is there is potential there for this player to take on a bigger role, especially when he’s one of the few truly good skaters on that backend.
On a team in such a dire cap situation as the Wings, Brendan Smith is an asset at 2.75M AAV. He’s making less money than Stephane Robidas so that’s certainly a plus. He fills a similar role to Carl Gunnarson on the Blues for around the same price and is making comparable money to most of the other bridge deals his peers are on. He’s also difficult to compare because we don’t really know the type of player he is yet. While he hasn’t quite solidified himself as a career depth player, he also hasn’t shown the flashes of brilliance comparables like Matt Dumba have. We just need more time.
THIS YEAR’S PROJECTION
He has a few things working in his favour this season. Detroit’s blue line is aging fast and is in decline. There will be more minutes to go around this year. He also has the skating ability absolutely necessary in today’s NHL and is probably one of only a few guys on Detroit that we can say this about. Blashill has also acknowledged some missteps and coaching oversights recently, like his utilization of Tatar and Nyqvist, that it may give the fanbase hope that Smith might actually get a fair shake this year.
While I expect the point production to stay around the same 12-20 point range, the best case scenario for Wings fans is that he simply adds a little more consistency and stability to that back end. With DeKeyser another year wiser, Marchenko getting great experience playing with Russia and Green offering some mentorship to a kid who can play a similar game, maybe Smith takes an important stride forward this year.
Lots of this depends on ice time though, what they’re going to do with a waiver-eligible Ouellet and how willing the staff is to crack down and redistribute the minutes of the declining Kronwall and Ericsson. History would suggest not to get hopes up too high on a lot of that but there’s potential this year for Blashill to start taking more control of the lineup decisions and maybe allotting some of that time to someone ready for the responsibility. Someone like Brendan Smith.
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