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Smith is ready to put AHL in the past

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Rookie defenseman Brendan Smith fights for position with Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg during Thursday's player practice in Troy. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)

TROY, Mich. – Good things come to those who wait, even Brendan Smith, who had to wait out a 113-day lockout before he could get his NHL career started in earnest.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Smith, who spent the lockout with Grand Rapids Griffins, the Red Wings’ American Hockey League affiliate.

“Every time I get to come up here and play with these guys and just to share the ice with them I’m always happy,” he said. “I think I’m more excited so I can finally get up here. As a young kid this is your goal to being up here and now that we got the lockout done it’s great.”

The 23-year-old rookie was among 12 Red Wings at Troy Sports Center on Thursday morning, participating in a high-intensity informal skate in anticipation of next week's five-day training camp.

Smith was called-up on a few occasions to spell injured players last season. He made his NHL during a four-game road trip after Ian White suffered a fractured cheekbone and it was determined that the type of injury prevented the veteran from air travel.

In 14 NHL games, the Red Wings’ first-round draft pick in 2007, produced a goal and seven points last season.

But the next time Smith slips on that wing-wheeled jersey, he knows it will be permanent. He arrived in metro Detroit last Wednesday night with is pickup truck loaded with his belongings, and was thrilled when team officials to him that he would be staying.

“They told me to look for a place, so that’s great,” he said.

It’s expected that Smith and Kyle Quincey will be paired together on the Wings’ second defensive unit, while Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson will comprise the first unit, and former Maple Leafs teammates Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo will make up the third until. Jakub Kindl will be the seventh defenseman in the rotation.

Smith and Quincey were also paired on the Wings’ second power play late in the season. And while both defensemen are left-hand shots, Smith said he’s comfortable on the right side.

“I played my off wing a lot, even when I was in Grand Rapids. I’m very familiar with that,” Smith said. “I think (Quincey) likes his strong side. He understands the game real well and I think he compliments my game a lot. If I’m jumping up in the rush he’s right there or vice versa. I’m excited to play with him. He’s a big body too, I kind of like how he’ll finish the check and I’ll come in and pick up the puck nice and easily.”

Some thought that Smith was good enough to play a full-time role on the Red Wings’ blue line last season. But one more season in the minors, with a couple of call-ups to Detroit sprinkled in, may have done Smith some good.

Now his arrival is met with the departure of two veteran blue-liners, including perennial All-Star Nicklas Lidstrom. Brad Stuart also signed with San Jose during the off-season.

“I can’t replace these guys, especially a guy like Brad Stuart,” said Smith, who led all Griffins' defensemen with five goals and 20 points this season. “He was phenomenal for our team last year, just the things that he did. He blocked so many shots and played so hard. He was always matched up against the top lines.

“As for Nick, I don’t know if there is anyone in the league that could step in and replace him. We can do as a whole D corps and do the best we can to replace. We’re just going to have to give it our all.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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