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Rash of injuries gives Wings rookie Smith opportunity

by Adam Kimelman / NHL.com
PHILADELPHIA -- Rather than dwell on the negatives of having so many key players out with injury, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock chooses instead to see opportunities for other players to step up.

"Nick Kronwall is one of the players of the week," Babcock sa. "Maybe if Nick Lidstrom is here, he can't be one of the players of the week. It's an opportunity there for all of us."

One of those players relishing his opportunity is rookie defenseman Brendan Smith. With Lidstrom (ankle), Jonathan Ericsson (wrist) and Jakub Kindl (upper body) all out of the lineup, the 23-year-old is getting his first taste of life in the NHL.

"It's a huge opportunity for me," Smith told NHL.com. "I've just got to play strong and play simple, show that I can be counted upon, especially with now Kindl being down, too. It's kind of put me up in the fifth 'D' spot. I have to play more minutes, and show that I can play those minutes and be put in those situations and perform. It's a huge thing for me, for the end of this year and going into next year."

Smith, a 2007 first-round pick of the Wings, spent all last season with AHL Grand Rapids, where he had 12 goals and 20 assists in 63 games; with 10 goals and 22 assists in 47 games this season, he was on pace to better those numbers prior to his call-up.

"Playing with Grand Rapids, we play a same similar style with the Red Wings, the same structure," Smith said. "So it's easy for me to make the transition. The biggest thing is not to get too nervous or let your emotions beat up on you. I just have to play a simple way, like I've been playing with Grand Rapids, and take it here."

Smith will start Tuesday's game against the Flyers on the third pairing, along with Doug Janik, but he'll likely see time on the power play. He played 2:10 with the man advantage Sunday against Chicago, fourth among Detroit defensemen.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK


 


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