When Brendan Smith was four years old, his father would often take him and his two brothers to Toronto Maple Leafs games. That same year, Brendan was put on the ice with his siblings and introduced to the game of hockey.
Eighteen years later, Smith just might be the hottest and most-hyped of the Detroit Red Wings prospects. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound defenseman grew up in Ontario and played in the Greater Toronto League as a teenager before being picked up by the St. Michael’s Buzzers of the Ontario Provincial Junior A League. After 62 points in 78 career OPJHL games, scouts projected Smith to be drafted in the second round. But the Wings couldn’t wait that long.
“He had great skills,” said Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill. “But we loved how he competed. He’s a very competitive player and always wanted to take charge on the ice. He sees the ice very well, he’s a strong skater and has good puck skills. He’s got a good shot and just has very good hockey sense. That combination, with good skills, was the most intriguing part about him.
Despite drafting him in the first round (27th overall) in 2007, the Wings still see room for improvement, namely that he should lean on teammates more often rather than trying to do it all himself – something that’s common amongst young players.
“Sometimes he wants to make a difference every shift and a lot of players want to do that,” Nill said. “They’re so competitive and skilled that they want to do that every shift. And, unfortunately, you’re playing against other great players who want to do the same thing. By playing games and maturing, you realize that you only get a couple opportunities to do that.”
As Smith learns how to make those professional adjustments with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American League this season, he couldn’t be happier to have been drafted by one of the league’s premier franchises.
“It makes me so excited,” Smith said. “Just knowing how many players are in their system now and knowing how the organization has produced so many players – think about (Jonathan) Ericsson and (Niklas) Kronwall and even guys like (Jakub) Kindl and (Justin) Abdelkader – the guys they have are just incredible.”
Smith committed to the University of Wisconsin for the 2007-08 season and played there for three years. Majoring in sociology, he had great success with the Badgers, posting 87 points in 95 games. In his final NCAA season, Smith helped lead Wisconsin to a berth in the national championship, where they lost to Boston College. His 52 points that year, combined with strong defensive play, allowed Smith to be named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award. The honor, given annually to the top NCAA hockey player, was ultimately given to Smith’s Wisconsin teammate, Blake Geoffrion.
In May 2010, Smith signed an entry level deal with Detroit. Since joining Grand Rapids in the AHL, he’s compiled eight goals and 22 points in 40 games. Nill expects Smith to become a top-four defenseman in the NHL, but believes there’s more to Smith’s eventual success than his on-ice talent.
“He’s a great kid - always has a smile on his face,” Nill said. “He’s full of energy and loves to have fun. And that’s very important in life.”
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