The Red Wings have added a lot of options to their power play over the last couple of weeks after acquiring defenseman Mike Green, and forward Brad Richards. These are two players who have experience on the power play, and are proven contributors. Head coach Jeff Blashill will no doubt utilize Green and Richards on the Red Wings already potent power play, but what else can he add?
During the Babcock era, more often than not you might see fans chomping at the bit for defenseman Brendan Smith to get his shot on the man advantage. Unfortunately, that was a very infrequent occurrence. In 195 NHL games, Smith has one goal, and five assists on the power play (numbers courtesy of war-on-ice.com.) He put up 11 goals alone during his 152-game tenure with the Grand Rapids Griffins. While Smith hasn't put up a ton of even strength points, he's still a gifted player, offensively speaking. So why hasn't he seen any time on the man advantage?
Babcock is a tough coach.. To earn opportunities, you have to work for it. Babcock spent a lot of time sheltering Smith, and gave him very few chances to actually succeed with what he does best. Now I'm not saying that this is all the fault of former Wings coach Mike Babcock, because Smith has had a lot of bad moments. The 26-year-old defenseman is prone to silly mistakes in his own zone that tend to be costly to his team. That, my friends, was the straw that broke the camel's back for Brendan Smith under Babcock's system.
That was the past. The Red Wings now have a fresh, young mind behind the bench in Jeff Blashill. While his systematics and ideals are similar to Babcock's, he's willing to give players like Brendan Smith a chance at redemption after signing a two-year extension worth $5.5 million. Ansar Khan recently posted an article on this very topic, with some great quotes from Blashill on Smith, and how he might use his offensive ability on the power play:
"I think Brendan has that ability to do that (power play)," 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 League (for half the 2012-13 season)."
"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. I know at Wisconsin he was on his off-side (right side) hitting one-timers. That's something we'll explore going into camp."
To be fair, Babcock said similar things about Smith going into camp last year. He said Smith would have a chance to become a player that would be utilized on the power play, but alas, it was short-lived. Smith averaged about 24 seconds of power play time per game in the 2014-2015 season, and he put up two assists. So, not great.. But he wasn't given a true chance to shine. Much of that power play time was the tailing end of a failed man advantage. Mike Babcock had a tendency of putting more defensively-minded players like Luke Glendening on the ice to prevent scoring chances from the man coming out of the box. Reading into what Blashill said gives me hope that Smith will have a true shot at becoming what we've wanted him to become for so long: an offensive weapon.
I love the idea of Brendan Smith roaming around the circles on the power play, and setting himself up to take one-timers from the slot. That also gives him the option to activate on rebounds and attempt to chip the puck into the net. I think that if Brendan Smith spent time on his shot accuracy, this could wind up being a weapon for the Red Wings. Here's what I think could be a potential second power play unit for the Red Wings to consider:
Gustav Nyquist - Riley Sheahan - Teemu Pulkkinen
Danny DeKeyser - Brendan Smith
Once the Red Wings are setup in the zone, Pulkkinen and Smith would essentially swap positions. It's risky, but having Pulkkinen's thunderous, and accurate right-hand shot on the point, with Smith's offensive instinct roaming the slot could provide true offensive potency.
In terms of defenseman options on the power play, the Red Wings have Niklas Kronwall, Mike Green, Danny DeKeyser, Brendan Smith, and Jakub Kindl. Other options on the point would be Teemu Pulkkinen and Brad Richards (he's played the point practically all of his career, if memory serves me correct.) So, one thing is clear.. Jeff Blashill has options aplenty to make the second-best power play unit in 2014-2015 even better, and Brendan Smith could be a promising contributor to this notion.
"I think the positive thing for us is you'd rather have more guys that can do it than not enough," Blashill said. "I think we have more guys (now). That's a real positive from the competition standpoint and from the production standpoint."
Give Brendan Smith a chance.