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MAIN CAMP: Smith begins dialogue with defencemen

Mike Smith made his Oilers Training Camp debut on Sunday where he began a dialogue with his new defencemen

by Paul Gazzola /

KELOWNA, BC - Mike Smith is still learning names.

No longer quarantined to his bed with an illness, the keeper is back on the ice in Oilers threads getting to know his teammates at Training Camp.

"I'm still trying to figure out guys' first names here on the team," he joked on Sunday at Prospera Place in Kelowna, BC, where the Oilers are on a weekend team retreat. 

The 37-year-old participated at a few of the informal captain's skates the club held before Camp but can now finally begin to acclimate with the squad.

"It was unlike me to be that sick for that long," Smith said. "That's over now. I'm just focused on getting up to speed here."

Video: OILERS TODAY | Kelowna Camping 09.22.19

Getting up to speed with the team - in particular, the defence - for Smith is paramount. His priority, first and foremost, is stopping pucks as a guardian but the goalie serves a dual role when he navigates outside the blue paint, acting as a third defenceman while he plays the puck.

In his first instance at Oilers Training Camp, Smith used the session to begin conversing with his new defenders about his puck handling.

"The communication lines are open," Smith started. 

"With a goaltender that can handle the puck, it's a huge thing. I think the quicker we can get on the same page with guys knowing where they're supposed to be at certain times, that'll come as I get into some games and guys get used to it."

Smith's activity within the trapezoid is well documented. Over his 13-year NHL career, Smith has one goal and 15 assists as he's become a release valve in the defensive zone, capable of moving the puck up himself when opposing clubs dump it in on the forecheck.

Video: RAW | Mike Smith 09.22.19

But the goalie insisted he can't do it all himself.

"It's not supposed to be a one-man show out there. It's a team affair," said the veteran. 

"The puck handling part is a big part of that. It's about where guys need to be on the ice."

After spending the past two seasons with the Flames, Oilers players have gotten used to forechecking and defending against Smith's puck-movement during numerous Battles of Alberta. Now, the club is working to utilize that element to their game.

"It's hard to forecheck teams like that because it essentially gives you an extra player, right, to break out the puck," Leon Draisaitl, back in Kelowna where he won a Western Hockey League championship with the Rockets, said. 

Video: RAW | Dave Tippett 09.22.19

The forward admitted that facing Smith was like facing an extra skater.

"It's kind of always six against five," Draisaitl said. "You feel like you're always running late. You're always that one step behind where it goes bang, bang and out. It's nice to be on that side for once and hopefully, he's going to give us some nice breakouts."

Smith, who learned the trade from Marty Turco when he was with the Dallas Stars organization, believes it can benefit the club in the 2019-20 season.

"I've kind of taken it to the next level," Smith said. "I really believe it's a big part of my game and a big part of helping the team out and D out.

"It definitely has some positive parts to it and hopefully I can do whatever I can to help this group back there."

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