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May 28, 2010For all the good things that go with being a first-round NHL draft choice, there are certain drawbacks that can often go unnoticed to the casual observer, likely the biggest, the colossally-high expectations that go along with the selection. As a first-round pick, you are expected to succeed and that will now be the challenge for CollegeHockey247.com Player of the Year Brendan Smith
Smith has decided to forego his final season of eligibility at Wisconsin, signing a contract with the Detroit Red Wings.
While Smith was effective when he was in the lineup during his freshman and sophomore seasons at UW, notching 11 goals and 24r assists through 53 games in his first two campaigns, he missed considerable time with two major injuries. First it was a back injury in his freshman season that forced him to miss three months with a bulging disc. Then a broken wrist set him back in year number two.
"When you go through that kind of adversity, it's really tough," said Smith, who admitted his battle with the injury bug started to leave him discouraged. "Especially in your first year when you're coming in all hyped to play and then ending up with a lower-back injury, it kept me out for more than half the season. Obviously there were times I got discouraged."
Smith credited Badgers' head coach Mike Eaves and the rest of his teammates who helped him to continue to feel a part of the team despite missing so much time.
"I had great coaches and teammates that helped me through it," said Smith. "Mike Eaves was a great mentor to me and always made me feel a part of the team. I feel that sometimes when you miss so much time it's easy to not feel like you're a part of the team. Coach Eaves always made me feel a part of the team though and so did all the boys so that really helped."
The circumstances were obviously out of Smith's control but the fact was two years in, the highly-touted defenseman from Mimico, Ont. had not yet lived up to the expectations he arrived with.
After his junior season in 2009-2010 though, nobody was questioning Smith anymore.
Smith led the nation in scoring among defensemen with 15 goals and 37 assists in 42 games, leaving him as the only defenseman to crack the top 50 in scoring. His total of 52 points left him in a tie for sixth overall. Meanwhile, he earned himself a nomination for the Hobey Baker Award and helped lead the Badgers to the NCAA National Championship game against Boston University.
His breakout season came as a big relief to Smith, finally being able silence any doubts about his play that may have arisen.
"I think it was huge just for me individually because I was finally able to play straight through the season and play all the games," said Smith. "It was a good feeling that way because you never want to be known as the band-aid so to play a full season and actually prove and show everybody what kind of player I was felt great."
The 09-10 Badgers were an impressive group featuring four players in the top 11 in NCAA Division I scoring. Smith made his biggest impact on the power play, scoring 11 of his 15 goals on the man-advantage. The 6-2, 190-pound defenseman credited his other offensively gifted teammates and his defence partner John Ramage for his success.
"If you look how stacked our team was last year with Wisconsin, our power play was on fire and even strength, we dominated a lot of teams," explained Smith. "I have to give a lot of credit to my defense partner John Ramage.
"Sometimes people know me to jump up in the rush pretty often and he always had my back. Also everybody on the power play, guys like Michael Davies, Derek Stepan, Justin Schultz and Blake Geoffrion, who was the Hobey Baker winner, we all had on the first power-play unit so I give a lot of credit to those guys."
Drafted by the Red Wings in large part for his offensive potential from the blue line, Smith's bread and butter, as was the case again this past season, is found on the power play. A piece of advice from Eaves, he said, helped him take that area of his game to the next level.
"Coach Eaves uses a method called TWIG -- 'Take what is given,'" said Smith. "I think what's helped me a lot is I haven't been trying to force too many plays and having the puck get intercepted, shot down the ice and losing about thirty seconds. I use that TWIG method and I've really tried to work on my one timer and a lot of my goals ended up coming from that."
Over Smith's three seasons with the Badgers, it has been the defensive side of his game that has evolved the most though. A talented player whose offense has always come naturally, Smith needed to improve his defensive game over his NCAA career before he could make the step to pro hockey.
Under the tutelage of Eaves and his staff, Smith has taken significant strides defensively and admitted that he has found the better he plays defensively, the easier it is to generate offense.
"My defensive positioning has definitely been the biggest part of my game that has evolved," said Smith. "Coming into Wisconsin, I didn't know things like good pivots and how to use your stick effectively and even blocking shots was a little bit of a mystery to me. Having Coach (Mark) Osiecki, Coach Eaves and Coach (Kevin) Patrick teach me these little vital things defensively have helped my game so much.
"My dad is my toughest critic but he's been telling me this year I've finally figured out defensive positioning."
The Red Wings obviously agreed as Smith signed a three-year entry-level deal on Thursday, and will attend training camp in the fall with a shot at making the team. When he was signing the deal, Smith said he thought of the countless people who had helped him along the way to achieve his goal.
"It was a great feeling, I have to give a lot of credit to all the players I've played with and all my coaches from way back, there's just so many to name," explained Smith. "Dave Gagner (with the Marlies) and Steve Thomas, who helped us out with the St. Michael's Buzzers and guys like Mike Eaves and Mark Osiecki and everybody who's ever been there for coaching and helped me, they've all had a part in my progress. So for me signing the deal, I kind of look back on all that has happened and it was a great feeling."