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Smith is happy with NHL start

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
ANAHEIM, Calif. – Not certain whether he’ll play his next game as a Red Wing or with the Grand Rapids Griffins, rookie defenseman Brendan Smith is satisfied with the way he played in the first three games of his NHL career on the California leg of the team’s trip out west.

“I think I’ve showed myself to the coaches that I can play and I can play up to this competition,” said Smith, who collected his first two NHL points with an assist in each of the Wings’ wins in Los Angeles and Anaheim.

“Hopefully if I get sent down – or when I get sent down – I’ll be that first guy (recalled) because I played that decent game up here,” he said.

Wings coach Mike Babcock has been impressed since the exhibition season with Smith’s puck-moving skills and his hockey sense. The problem that Smith is up against is a numbers game with seven defensemen already on the Wings’ roster.

“He skates and gets the puck going,” said Babcock, of Smith. “I like him, though he made some mistakes (Sunday), but we all make mistakes.”

Smith, 22, was called-up a week ago to replace Ian White (fractured cheekbone), who wasn’t cleared to travel on the four-game road trip that concluded with Sunday’s 4-2 victory over the Ducks. White was placed on seven-day injured reserve on Saturday.

“I know that I’ve made a few mistakes, but they put me right back out,” Smith said. “It’s not like you’re going to be benched because you made that wrong play or what-not where you’re gripping your stick because you’re afraid of making a mistake. I think the worst time is when you’re playing scared.”

There’s no doubt that Smith is an NHL player out there and has the potential to be a dominant defenseman for years to come. He doesn’t look lost or rushed and he makes good decisions as he did Saturday when he came out of the penalty box and pushed the puck ahead to a speeding Justin Abdelkader, who scored on the play.

Whether Smith’s next game is Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena against Calgary or at Van Andel Arena against Hamilton, he’s confident that he can compete at the NHL level.
“It’s been awesome. The speed and the strength is actually a lot different, but the people that I’m playing with are a lot better and they help out a lot more and are more aware of the game,” said Smith, who’s averaged nearly 15-minutes of ice-time with the Wings. “But I think the biggest thing is I have to play my position and doing the easy, simple things.

“Sometimes I catch myself trying to do too much. One time at the blue line I tried to skate it up where I should have just gave it off, then I wouldn’t get myself in trouble. Those are things that I’ll learn, but it’s been awesome just getting my feet wet.”

Last Thursday, Smith’s parents and older brother traveled from Toronto to see his league debut in San Jose. They were also at Staples Center when he got his first point. He even got the puck from Wings equipment manager Paul Boyer as a memento of his milestone.

Whether it’s in Detroit or Grand Rapids, the thing that Smith now wants to work on are the mistakes that he said were exposed by NHL opponents

“Those are the things that I have to take out of my game,” he said. “I will make sure that I’m making the right play and I’ll engrave that in my head that that is the right play because that’s the NHL play. I know that sometimes in Grand Rapids I can skate with the puck a little bit and do some more fancier things, but those things I can’t do up here – not too many people can like Pavel Datsyuk, but those are the things that I will take to my game down there.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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