by Marc Ciampa
| |Ladislav Smid was team captain of Czech Republic's entry in the 2006 World Junior Championships in Vancouver.
When the Oilers dealt Chris Pronger on Monday, the initial reports were that the Oilers had acquired Joffrey Lupul, a non-roster player and some draft picks.
Plenty of attention was paid to Lupul, as it should have been. A local player from nearby Fort Saskatchewan, 28 goals in 2005-06 plus nine more in the playoffs and only 22 years old.
But many may have overlooked the "non-roster player" aspect of the trade. Ladislav Smid
, drafted ninth overall by Anaheim only two years ago at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft is projected to be a solid, two-way defenceman. As an added bonus, all indications are he's ready to step in right away.
"All our scouts are very, very high on him," said Oilers VP of Hockey Operations Kevin Prendergast. "In the long run he's going to be an outstanding defenceman."
The Oilers have had an eye on Smid since his draft year and have continued to keep tabs on the blueline prospect.
"He played an awful lot in Portland last year," said Prendergast of the 20-year-old blueliner. "He's going to be able to contribute to this hockey team."
Smid was back in the Czech Republic when he got word of the deal. Considering how high he was on the radar of Ducks GM Brian Burke, he was surprised to be dealt.
"I was astonished. I didnt expect anything like this," said Smid.
After his 2005-06 club - the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League - were eliminated in Game 7 of the third round, he departed for home. Brian Burke told him before he left that if he came to camp in good shape he would have an opportunity to crack the lineup.
"The general manager explained a lot of things to me, we talked about the upcoming season in quite serious detail," Smid stated.
But the next time Burke and Smid spoke, it was to inform the 6'3" 204 pound blueliner that he was off to Edmonton.
"He informed me that the club had traded for Chris Pronger and it was an extraordinary situation. I was gasping for a little while, it came out of the blue. I had no notion that I could be in any shape or form involved in the Pronger trade."
Shortly after hearing from Burke, Smid spoke with his agent and then had an opportunity to talk to Kevin Lowe for the first time.
"He welcomed me in the organization, we talked about the training camp. I should come a week before it opens, and he hinted I should come really ready."
The surreal nature of the situation still has not sunk in for Smid.
"I havent played a minute in the NHL, and here I am, moving," he said.
Oilers scout and Czech Republic native Frank Musil also had an opportunity to address Smid.
"He told me Edmonton had been interested in me at the draft, but Anaheim beat them to me, but the Oilers kept watching me."
Edmonton won't be entirely new to Smid, either. He has already spent several summers in the city, his agent Ritch Winter is located there and fellow countryman Ales Hemsky
plays on the team.
"I practiced in Edmonton during summers twice," he stated. "My agent Ritch Winters office is in Edmonton. So, at least, he wont be too far away, I can always drop by for a cup of coffee."
By the time September rolls around, a lot of eyes will be on the defenceman with the expectation that he will make a serious run at the fifth or sixth spot on the Edmonton blueline. And he will be ready for the challenge.
"Ive got to earn it. Its the same all over the NHL. I expect the club to sign a few more new players, lets see who they are going to be. I hope Im going to play, but its too soon to tell."
- with files from Peter Adler.