Some teammates call him ‘Laddy,’ others go with ‘Smidder.’ But ‘savior’ wouldn’t be too far off the mark this season, either. While the Edmonton Oilers are once again bringing up the rear in the NHL (only Columbus is worse), at least the franchise has hit pay dirt with one defenseman this season – Ladislav Smid.
Alternately known as one of the players acquired when Chris Pronger was traded out of town and the guy who was sucker-punched by Sean Avery, the veteran Czech blueliner is having a breakout season on a team that desperately needs it.
The Oilers defense corps, is, how you say…awful. And much like Carey Price’s situation in Montreal this year, Smid has been one of the few shining lights. Through 53 games, he has already blocked 130 shots, smashing his total of 118 last season, which had been a career-high.
“Everybody is asking me, ‘How come all of a sudden you’re blocking so many shots?’ And I think it comes with experience,” Smid said. “I’ve accepted my role as a defensive defenseman. It’s part of what you have to do – block a lot of shots.”
But that’s not the only category Smid is excelling at. Along with leading the Oilers in blocked shots by a country mile, he’s killing in hits, too, with 120 (40 more than the next highest Oiler, fellow D-man Theo Peckham). He’s playing more minutes than ever in his career at 21:08 per game, with 3:36 of that coming shorthanded – also an Oilers best. Naturally, stamina has been important.
“A couple years ago I had surgery on my neck and I wasn’t really able to train for the summer,” Smid said. “This summer I had four full months of solid training and I worked on my conditioning. It has helped me a lot.”
The affable Czech has also been the only Edmonton defenseman to play every game this season, which goes a long way in explaining why the team is mired in putrescence. Ryan Whitney and Tom Gilbert have also been key blueliners, but combined they’ve only played 61 games this year due to injuries. Along with Gilbert, Jeff Petry and Colten Teubert will have years to prove themselves as core guys in Edmonton and Smid is more than happy to see some fresh blood.
“Finally I’m not the youngest,” he said. “But it’s good to see some of the young guys stepping up and playing big minutes. For me, I’m still learning, too.”
His most important lesson this year? Don’t injure the coach. Unfortunately it was Smid who tipped a puck into bench boss Tom Renney’s dome at the beginning of the morning skate before a recent loss to Toronto. Afterward in the dressing room, his whole ‘D’ corps seemed to chime in on the incident. Naturally, Smid felt terrible, but also joked that the tip might have proven to the Oilers that he should get more power play time. Petry jokingly warned him that his ice time might mysteriously dwindle that night.
In a young dressing room where losing hasn’t crushed the spirits of the enthusiastic, Smid is more than capable of taking chirps with the same braveness he institutes in blocking shots. But he will live down the Renney incident soon, right?
“He won’t – ever,” said left winger Ryan Jones. “He will never live that down. If there was ever a guy, it would be Smidder.”
They’re still happy to have him in the dressing room, though.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN’s associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.