Brendan Smith wants Detroit Red Wings fans to know that no matter what they’ve heard or read about him, he’s not a bad apple.
The top-scoring defenseman in U.S. college hockey and Hobey Baker candidate is turning pro this season with a well-documented history of off-ice issues during his three-year NCAA career with the Wisconsin Badgers.
“Sometimes it’s just being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Smith said. “People read all these things on the Internet about me being a bad apple, but I think if you talk to me, you understand I am not like that. I want people in Detroit to know who I actually am and not just what they read in the papers.”
Smith, the Red Wings’ first-round draft choice in 2007, was most recently charged with disorderly conduct after a fight outside his home this past May. Prior to that, a separate off-ice incident led to him being suspended by his team, while he has been a healthy scratch for “undisclosed reasons.”
Despite his past troubles, Smith’s NHL talent is undeniable. He could be a dynamic force on the Red Wings’ blue line in a few years, if he stays out of trouble off the ice.
Red Wings goaltending prospect Thomas McCollum has a unique take on his ability after getting a look at Smith this week at the annual NHL prospects tournament in Traverse City.
“Smith kind of reminds me of playing behind Drew Doughty,” said McCollum, a teammate of Doughty’s for two seasons with the Guelph Storm. “He’s not quite the dynamic offensive player that Drew is, but who is really? He makes a lot of great plays but at the same time he’s very good defensively.”
The 21-year-old Smith, who is turning pro this season after a sensational junior year at Wisconsin, is hesitant to the comparison to a Norris Trophy-calibre NHLer.
“I still have some work cut out for me if I want to be like Drew Doughty, but I guess I play pretty similar,” he said. “We both play similar styles and we are both young.”
Smith piled up 87 points in three seasons at Wisconsin, but led all NCAA defensemen last season with 15 goals and 37 assists for 52 points in 42 games, helping him earn a top-10 nomination for the famous Hobey Baker Award.
He leads the Red Wings with a plus-6 in three games in Traverse City, helping the squad advance to Wednesday’s gold-medal game against the Minnesota Wild.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “There are some great players out here that you don’t always see in college but I have been able to keep up with the competition because I would say strength and speed wise it is pretty similar.”
The Red Wings have gone so far as to mention Smith’s name in the race for the seventh defenseman’s spot this season along with Derek Meech, Doug Janik and Jakub Kindl, although there is a good chance he’ll open the year in the American Hockey League with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
“It’s kind of a win-win situation for me,” Smith said. “Playing with Grand Rapids is unbelievable and playing with Detroit is even that much better. Just knowing that I could be the seventh defenseman is great, but we will have to wait and see what happens.”
Red Wings goaltending prospect Petr Mrazek rose to the occasion in his prospects tournament debut. The Czech goalie stopped 28 of 29 shots to help the Red Wings edge the St. Louis Blues 2-1 on Tuesday.
“It was a great game,” Mrazek said. “I was pretty excited to play in my first game of the tournament.”
Mrazek, who plays for the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Hockey League, was drafted in the fifth round (141st overall) by the Red Wings in June.
“I am so happy the Red Wings drafted me,” he said. “When I was a kid, I wanted to either play for Ottawa or Detroit. The Red Wings are the best organization in the NHL and the city is a great hockey town.”
Mrazek will get his first real taste of being a Red Wing when the full team arrives in the next couple of days for the main training camp, which kicks off Saturday with a 9:30 am practice.
“When I was a kid it was my dream to watch NHL guys play,” he said. “I am still trying to let it sink in that Henrik Zetterberg and the other Red Wings will be here. It should be fun.”
— By advancing to the gold-medal game, the Red Wings have a chance to win the tournament for the first time since they started hosting it in 1998.
“We really want to break the curse and win this tournament,” Smith said.
“Coach told us Detroit has never won this tournament,” said winger Tomas Tatar. “I think the group here is awesome so we have a real chance in this tournament.”
— The game had hardly started before Mitchell Callahan dropped the gloves with 6-foot-5, 184-pound Cody Beach. Callahan took a beating early on but bounced back in the second half with several wicked blows to Beach’s face and midsection. The fight ended in a draw.
“I decided to get into a fight early to get the team going,” Callahan said. “St. Louis is a big, tough, strong team and I wanted our team to get some momentum. I think it worked out as we got a goal right after that.”
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Callahan never shies away from a fight, even when faced with a much larger opponent.
“Size doesn’t really bother me as long as I can protect myself in the end,” he said.
— Tatar’s game winning goal was his third through three games. He saw a ton of ice time and even killed penalties. It was only a matter of time before he found the score sheet.
“Coach was saying someone had to step up,” Tatar said. “I was so happy to score. It was game-winning goal so the feeling is awesome.”
— Tryout defenseman Brenden Kichton saw game action for the first time of the tournament.
— Defenseman Brian Lashoff took a nasty shot off his leg late in the third period but says he is fine to play on Wednesday. He continues to be a steady influence on the blue line.
— Forward Brent Raedeke has been nursing a knee strain since last week. He is able to play on the knee but ices it after every game and practice.
— Smith left the game late in the second period with what he calls “bumps and bruises.” Other teammates have said he has a wrist problem.
— Travis Ehrhardt, who has put on some serious muscle this off season, played a solid game for the Red Wings and made some timely shot blocks. He is quietly having a good tournament.
— Trevor Parkes spent some time playing on a newly-formed top line that also included Tomas Tatar and Landon Ferraro. Later in the game the line of Tatar, Willie Coetzee and Joakim Andersson also saw action.
— Brooks Macek, a late-round pick in June’s draft, has three points in three games, second behind Tatar, and is providing the Red Wings with scoring depth.