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Wings groom standout Smith for bigger things to come

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DETROIT -- The Red Wings have high but realistic expectations of Brendan Smith for the coming season.

He's partaking in the team's annual development camp in Traverse City, Mich., this week despite having the distinction of being NHL-ready. The Wings asked him to join partly for his own benefit, partly to set an example for the younger players.

Smith, 23, has been working out in the Toronto area with Peter Renzetti, the Wings' strength and conditioning coach, with a focus on being sleeker.

"I know a lot of guys that kind of bulk up with weight and then they lose speed, and that would hurt my game, especially with how I skate," Smith said. "That's probably one of my better attributes, so the biggest thing is to get stronger and not lose any speed."

The Wings have been bringing Smith along since drafting him 27th overall five years ago. He spent three years at the University of Wisconsin, then turned pro last season and played in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he stood out with his skill level. The Wings relied on him for 14 games, most of them after Nicklas Lidstrom was injured in late February. Smith had seven points, six of them assists, and was plus-three.

The Wings' defence has lost Lidstrom and Brad Stuart since the season ended, and Smith could contend for a spot in the top four.

"Brendan is an elite player, and we know he can play in the league," assistant general manager Jim Nill said. "There's going to be some growing pains, but that's part of the system we're in."

Smith has a lot of assets: He's 6-1, a smooth skater, smart and likes to join the rush. And as the Wings saw last exhibition season when he took out a Chicago opponent, Smith plays with an edge. He just needs to fine-tune that edge so the hits don't lead to a suspension.

Between knowing he's being counted on for next season and getting a taste of the NHL last season, Smith's confidence is high.

"I think the biggest thing is, they threw me in the lineup when some of our big D went down and it was at the end of the year, where everybody has played 60-some games," he said. "And I thought I did well.

"There's obviously a huge area of improvement that I have to keep on making, and that's what I'll do -- decisions in the defensive zone with the puck, sometimes instead of looking for that home-run pass, it's see that you've got to go boards-out or glass-out. But they've told me they love the way I play with my offensive abilities."

 

-- Detroit Free Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 8, 2012 B6

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