Detroit Red Wings first-round pick Brendan Smith is learning the defensive ropes this season as a freshman with the Wisconsin Badgers.
The 6-foot-1, 170-pounder, The Red Wings’ top pick (27th overall) in June’s NHL entry draft, is as skilled as they come offensively, a power-play quarterback in the making. But his biggest challenges the next three years at Wisconsin are to get stronger and shore up his defensive play.
The Red Wings have been impressed with Smith’s gains in both areas. He has two goals and seven assists in 16 games and is making steady progress.
The 18-year-old from Mimico, Ontario, is part of a defense corps that features three freshmen, a sophomore and two seniors. He’s paired with the elder statesman of the unit, Anaheim Ducks pick Kyle Klubertanz, and works closely with Badgers assistant coach and former NHL defenseman Mark Osiecki.
“Defensive things that you’re talking about are things that you can learn,” Badgers head coach Patrick Eaves told The Badger Herald earlier this year. “The things we can’t teach are his offensive skills and his ability to take what’s given and be creative with the puck in a tight situation. He can make something out of nothing.”
Smith said working with Osiecki is a big help.
“I think with rookies, we’ve got some great talent, we just haven’t been taught some of those minor things that he knows,” Smith told the Madison Capital Times. “I think he gets a lot of excitement out of trying to teach us to become better. He knows what we need to improve on, and it’s up to him to make us better players.”
Smith was cut from Canada’s world junior team this week, but he has another year of eligibility left and has a good chance at making the team next time around.
— Fellow Red Wings prospects Logan Pyett (Canada) and Joakim Andersson (Sweden) will participate at the world junior championship in the Czech Republic. Pyett, a defenseman, should play an offensive role for Canada, while Andersson, a forward, will be looked upon for leadership and two-way contributions.
Forward Cory Emmerton was sent home from Canada’s world junior camp because he has mononucleosis, a tough break for the skilled two-way forward.
— The Grand Rapids Press reports Grand Rapids Griffins coach Mike Stothers has taken to calling 6-foot-5, 220-pound defenseman Jonathan Ericsson “The Big Rig” since putting the 23-year-old Swede in front of the net on the power play in a role similar to Tomas Holmstrom with the Red Wings. It’s not unheard of for this to happen. Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins has done it for years.
— Here’s a look at Red Wings prospects at the Channel One Cup. Goalie Daniel Larsson (Sweden) started a game and turned aside 19 of 21 shots in a 2-0 loss to Russia. Forward Dick Axelsson (Sweden) scored once on his only shot in two games. Defenseman Miroslav Blatak (Czech Republic) had no points in two games.
— Forward Jan Mursak (Slovenia) has a ridiculous 27 shots on goal in four games at the third-tier world junior championship in Latvia but scored just once. He also has a pair of helpers. The tournament continues this week.