Blashill sees some untapped offensive potential in Smith

DETROIT >> When new Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill was asked if Brendan Smith had some untapped offensive potential his answer was quite clear.

“I think Brendan has that ability to do that,” Blashill said. “You have to see where the whole puzzle fits at camp. He’s somebody I know that’s done that in the past because he’s done that for me in the American (Hockey) League.”

Because of his offensive potential, Smith was selected by the Wings in the first round (27th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

Smith had 26 goals and 61 assists in three seasons at the University of Wisconsin, where he quarterbacked the Badgers’ power play.

In his final season, he totaled 15 goals and 37 assists.

Smith also had nice offensive numbers in roughly two and a half seasons in Grand Rapids, with 27 goals and 59 assists in 152 games. Eleven of those goals came on the power play.

But under former coach Mike Babcock, Smith was never viewed as an offensive defenseman and also never got power play time.

Most of that likely had to do with Smith’s defensive inadequacies which included poor decisions on when to pinch and his tendency to turn the puck over.

During the first two games of the Wings’ Western Conference semifinal series with Chicago in 2013, you saw the best and the worst of Smith and it prompted this quote from Henrik Zetterberg a day after their 4-1 win.

“He creates a lot of stuff, sometimes for both teams,” Zetterberg said with a slight grin. “He’s young, he’s still learning. He learns every game. It’s nice to see he had a bounce back game.”

Late that regular season Smith, who was called on to play a huge role after Nicklas Lidstrom retired and Brad Stuart was traded, found himself a healthy scratch for two straight games after Babcock wanted him to look after the puck better. Prior to his benching he had gone five consecutive games by registering a minus-1 rating.

Last season, Smith had another memorable blunder in the next-to-last game of last regular season. He batted a puck that was in play while on the bench.

Smith, 26, was benched by Babcock for the final regular season game and the first two of the playoffs.

Despite the addition of Mike Green and Brad Richards, Blashill still sees a possibility of Smith getting power play time on the blue line.

“I think Brendan’s best offensive ability is kind of roaming around below the tops of the circles,” Blashill said. “If he’s a weak-side guy on the power play, going to the net a lot, he can retrieve pucks because he’s quick, he’s strong, he’s competitive. He’s got good offensive instincts once he gets below the tops of circles.”

Smith has 10 goals and 37 assists in 195 career regular-season games with the Wings and two goals and three assists in 24 playoff games.

“I know at Wisconsin he was on his off-side hitting one timers,” Blashill said. “That’s something we’ll explore going into camp. I think the positive thing for us you’d rather have more guys that can do it than not enough. I think we have more guys today than we had yesterday. That’s a real positive from the competition standpoint and from the production standpoint.”

Smith, who was a restricted free agent, recently signed a two-year deal with an average salary-cap hit of $2.75 million a season.

His last two-year deal had an average cap hit of $1,262,500.

Smith’s name was floated at last year’s trade deadline when the Wings had talked about obtaining Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf.

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