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Wings' youngsters ready for increased role

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT -- The third defense pairing for the Detroit Red Wings will be one to keep an eye on Friday at Joe Louis Arena -- it'll be 25-year old Jakub Kindl and 23-year old rookie Brendan Smith.

It will be Kindl's 100th NHL game and Smith's first regular-season home game, so both will have milestones of sorts to use for motivation.

"It's a dream (come) true," said Kindl, who has 1 goal and 11 assists in 48 games this season. "Who'd have thought I could play even 100 games in the NHL? It's nice and hopefully I can put up a few more."

He's getting the chance to string a few together again after falling out of favor with Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and GM Ken Holland for not holding onto the puck long enough and not looking eager to take on physical contact in order to make plays.

After Holland for 26-year old Kyle Quincey -- a former Red Wings defense prospect before leaving in 2008 as a waiver claim -- it looked like neither Smith nor Kindl would get significant minutes again this season.

Then a rash of injuries to Detroit's blue line a week ago changed those plans. Jonathan Ericsson broke his wrist, Nicklas Lidstrom suffered an ankle injury and Quincey injured his groin. That opened the door for Kindl to return to the lineup and Smith to earn a call-up from AHL Grand Rapids.

Quincey will return to the lineup Friday, but Babcock will keep his young pair together for a second straight game.

"It's crazy," Kindl said. "You never know when you're going to be out there, but some things you can't control. You just have to always be ready and do everything you can. Whenever you have the chance, you've just got to be ready."

Smith said he's felt ready to play in the NHL for a while, and he'll get the chance now to see if he's right.

"I think we went from eight 'D' to four 'D' in, like, 23 hours," said Smith. "It's an opportunity for (me), and I'm pretty excited about it. I'm just going to try to not waste this opportunity and get out there and play my best. These are the things I've been told to try to manage."

He's gotten a good amount of practice at it, too, just by monitoring the defense situation in Detroit while playing in Grand Rapids.

"The biggest thing is to not let all of the news get to your head," Smith said. "When you get the call, play well. When you're down (in the AHL), play well. When you're a professional player, it's just about playing well and being consistent. It doesn't matter if you're up or down. These are the things I've got to do."

He also had to play it as cool as possible when Holland picked up Quincey and not let it send an unintended message about his play or development path.

"Obviously, for myself, I was a little shocked," Smith said. "I was like, 'Wow.' But I called my dad and my agent, and they're just like, 'Hey, it's all the master plan. You know that you're a good player. Don't let that stuff get into your head.' Because if it does get into your head, then you're not playing your best, you're playing to what you think is going on. You're distracted. You never want to be like that."

It helped hearing comments from Holland and Red Wings coach Mike Babcock about how well he was developing and likely would have a role in the NHL next season. He also was told that Holland declined a couple of trade offers that had his name in them.

"A few people have told me there were a few offers, and (Holland and Babcock) told me I'm the future (plans), and I'll be around for a while ... which is awesome to hear," Smith said. "For Kenny to tell me I'm the future of the Red Wings, it's pretty cool. I'm just going to try to play my best and try to live up to that."

Kindl knows the feeling well, as Detroit's first round pick (No. 19) in the 2005 Entry Draft. He's been trying to find a regular spot in the top-six defense corps for the last couple of seasons and continues to come across speed bumps.

One thing he's learned along the way: Don't try to do too much to get noticed, just do what's necessary each game. He'll probably share that wisdom with Smith prior to Friday's game, which the rookie anticipates bringing a healthy dose of nerves beforehand.

"We're young guys," Kindl said. "We've just got to keep it simple. Smitty is a good player. He can skate and carry the puck. We've just got to talk to each other and help each other out and play simple."
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