Edmonton, AB - Ladislav Smid's 2011-12 season set the stage for greater expectations, but the 26-year-old isn't about to take anything for granted.
"You have to prove yourself every year," he said Monday morning at Perry Pearn's 3-on-3 Camp in north Edmonton. "I'm not coming into the season with the mindset that the coaches are going to hand me the job. I want to prove that I can be a Top 2 or Top 3 defenceman. I've been working hard all summer and you're going to be able to see it during the season."
Coming off a season in which the 6'3", 210-pound rearguard collected career-highs in goals (5) and points (15), Smid is growing up -- in more ways than one.
"I got married in Prague during the summer. Nothing's really changed, except I wear a ring -- which I forgot at home," he laughed.
Like most attending Monday's session, he doesn't want any of that progress to be derailed.
"(I'm) still preparing like there's nothing going on, preparing for the season, and hopefully the camps are going to open on time in September," Smid explained, noting the NHL/NHLPA's ongoing negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA is set to expire on Sept. 15, at which point League commissioner Gary Bettman has stated its players will be locked out if a deal can't be reached.
"I don't really know what's going to happen," he added. "Both sides (submitted) their proposals and both sides don't agree with them, so I guess there will be more negotiations. Everyone's worried that the season won't start on time, but there's still a month to go."
While that much is out of his (and others') control for the most part, No. 5 is primarily focused on wrapping up his summer training program. When camp does inevitably kick off, he'll be ready to go and better than ever because of the time and effort he's put in over the off-season.
"I've been working on agility, lots of speed and strength," Smid said. "Like last year, I'm not setting many goals -- I want to be solid, make quick passes and blocking shots has become a big part of my game.
"I want to leave everything out there and help the team make the playoffs."
Smid was acquired in a package deal in the summer of 2006 when disgruntled defenceman Chris Pronger was shipped to the Anaheim Ducks. The Frydlant, Czech Republic native has since played 409 NHL games and has yet to crack the post-season. While it's no guarantee he'll get that opportunity after another 82 this year, it now seems more likely than it ever has during his six-year tenure in orange and blue.
The Oilers showed some growth last year, but it was merely a sliver to hang their hats on.
"Obviously we couldn't be happy with the result we got last year -- 29th," he said. "It was very disappointing, but this year everyone is starting from zero. The young guys (Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) aren't even really young anymore. It's their second or third year (in the NHL), so they're more experienced and they have to take on a bigger role on the team – to be leaders. An addition like Nail Yakupov is going to help big time, too. He's really quick, really strong and has a really good shot.
"I think so," Smid added, agreeing that the team is better balanced now than it has been in recent seasons. "This team has been together for a while and I think that's great. Re-signing Ryan (Smyth) is a big thing, he's one of our leaders and is an older guy that's been there and has gone all the way.
"Justin Schultz is another great player and he's going to help us, too."
The next question is, will the additions -- combined with age and experience -- be enough to crack the post-season? Smid hopes so, and believes it's possible if everything comes together and the Oilers assemble a team game that often abandoned them in recent years.
"It's about coming together, working hard and taking it game by game."
That and "leaving it all out there," as Smid already alluded to, but by now you've probably come to expect that from him.