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Smith is determined to make leap

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Five years ago, Brendan Smith was overwhelmed when he attended his first Red Wings’ prospect camp at Joe Louis Arena.

However, the expectations then weren’t nearly as high as they are this week as the Wings begin their annual summer camp by putting their prospects through on-ice and off-ice workouts at Centre ICE Arena.

With a mix of players that range in age (17 to 23), physical development and confidence at this camp, Smith stands out as the organization’s next prospect which seems ready to make the leap to the NHL.

“This is a business trip,” said Smith, 22. “My first time I was getting my feet wet and watching guys like Jakub Kindl when he was captain of the Czech team. I just watched him and saw how he held himself, and I’ve just try to emulate him. I would say that this is more like a business trip, and hopefully I can keep progressing right into training camp in September.”

Wings general manager Ken Holland has said time and time again this summer that Smith will be given every opportunity to earn a spot on the Wings’ roster this fall. While the retirement of Brian Rafalski helps Smith’s case, the free agency acquisitions of Mike Commodore and Ian White makes for a challenging situation in training camp and the preseason games.

“I just need to keep progressing and show them that I want to be with the Wings next year, and show them by my on-ice and off-ice,” Smith said. “Obviously, the big thing about me is am I gaining weight? Am I getting stronger? I’m working hard in the gym and I have to keep doing it and keep getting bigger and improving myself.”

Someone who has spent significant time with Smith and charted his growth and development is Jiri Fischer, the Wings’ director of player development. For Fischer, all of the attributes are there for Smith. He’s a swift skating offensive defenseman, who likes to pick his spots to join the rush. After all, as a junior at Wisconsin he was a Hobey Baker finalist, finishing with 15 goals and 37 assists.

“He seems to be determined,” Fischer said. “The first time that I got to meet him after we drafted him in the first round, he was very confident, pretty resilient, mentally. Those are two very, very important things if you’re going to make it to the pros.

“I think it was hard for him to figure out how difficult it really is to make it in the NHL from the level that he was playing at. Since then, I think he’s really learned in the last four years what it takes, and this year he is going to be pushing really hard for a spot on the Red Wings’ roster.”
Last season, Smith played in Grand Rapids with the Wings’ American Hockey League affiliate. There he led the Griffins’ defensemen with 12 goals in 63 games, and became the first Griffins’ rookie ever selected to play in an AHL All-Star.

Even though he doesn’t have a spot on the Wings’ roster for the upcoming season, some hockey pundits have already penciled in Smith as a candidate for the Calder Trophy.

“I hear it,” he said. “But I try to keep that out of my head. I’m just trying to be my best and get myself to that point. But right now I need to show them that I can be a productive player in the NHL.”

As for the rest of his summer plans, Smith plans to continue working out back in his hometown of Toronto with renowned fitness guru Matt Nichol, who has trained other NHL stars like Mike Cammalleri and Steven Stamkos.

“I thought my camp last year was good, but I want to be even better and show that I should be one of the guys on the roster,” Smith said.

WINGS NOTES: The first day of prospect camp wasn’t without a few casualties. Defensemen Max Nicastro and Richard Nedomlel didn’t finish Thursday afternoon’s Team Lidstrom skate.

Nicastro, who was a Red Wings’ third-round pick in 2008 and finished his second season at Boston University, complained of soreness in the lower back. Last month’s sixth-round selection, Nedomlel, had been on an antibiotic four days prior to the start of camp, began to experience dizziness and sat out the final 15 minutes.

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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