Detroit Red Wings’ Brendan Smith Becoming a Key Player


Brendan Smith of The Detroit Red Wings is finally developing into the player many have hoped he would become.

When you hear Brendan Smith’s name, what comes first to your mind?

Is it his standoff with Bruins’ captain Zdeno Chara in 2014? Or the time when he played the puck while sitting on the bench near the completion of last season, causing a crucial penalty kill and nearly flattening Detroit’s playoff chances?

Many seem to be disappointed with the former first-round pick to whom much faith was given after the departures of Nick Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. Smith has found himself as the scapegoat in terms of Detroit’s defensive woes despite boasting strong possession numbers throughout his career. This season, the 26-year-old blue-liner’s two-way game is finally advertised consistently, game-in and game-out. Here a couple charts and gifs to get the conversation started:

(the following images are from Pranshath Iyer [@iyer_pranshanth on Twitter] of Winging it in Motown, the SB Nation blog covering the Detroit Red Wings. He, along with the rest of the WiiM crew, offers much wonderful in-depth coverage of the team, which I highly recommend.)


This data comes from 5v5 play from Thanksgiving up until January 2nd. As you can see, this includes ALL PLAYERS, and Smith leads the team in CorsiFor%, Points per 60 minutes, Assits per 60 minutes and is third in Goals per 60 minutes.

Although the sample size is small, this is pretty much the first time this season that we’re seeing Smith getting consistent roster and ice time, and he’s making the most of it. Looking at the ZO%Rel (the proportion of starts he takes in the offensive zone relative to teammates) in comparison to the other defencemen, we can see Smith is out-possessing and out-scoring Detroit’s “Top Pair” of Ericsson/Kronwall despite being less sheltered (sheltering=being deployed in the offensive zone often, often= >50% of total zone starts).

In theory, the more shifts you start in your own zone, the more you should see your Corsi numbers drop (if your team loses the faceoff, possession will be driven against you without fault by you as a defenseman), yet Smith is still driving offense and preventing chances against despite his deployment.

This is a great, underrated play by Smith here. He’s aggressive and commits to the defensive play, and is able to take the body without drawing a call against him. Any heavy commitment at the blue-line such as this causes Smith to run the risk of being taken out of position and getting burned, but here it is smart to take the body so that the forward is less likely to be able to deke around him.

Smith is able to subtly cheat and sneak out of his lane to suppress the forward’s entry without interfering (at least enough to warrant a call), grabbing or hooking. This is a play that would likely not be made by Niklas Kronwall, for instance. Despite his veteran experience, Kronwall would probably drop back into his zone and try to pressure the forward to the boards simply by cutting down his shooting angle.

Smith’s play is much more effective and, if executed correctly, strips the opponent of possession immediately. This is a play that takes brains and skill to complete that have been lacking in Detroit’s back end for much of the season.

Here, Smith’s  strong breakout ability and defensive awareness are displayed. Detroit’s defenesmen often depend on holding the puck behind the net while the offense either sets up or changes before breaking out. When playing a team with a strong forecheck like New Jersey, those opportunities are few and far between. Smith is able to gather the puck, avoid a broken stick and evade a pressing forward without making a suicide pass to the slot. His simple chip to Richards allows the team to escape a dangerous defensive situation.

Put Ericsson or Kronwall in that position, and you get the following scenarios:

A- He holds the puck behind the net for lack of an easily-identifiable pass. He is out-muscled and turns the puck over.

B- He tries to pass the puck off to his left where he sees two of his teammates in the corner, but the puck is stolen by the other pressing opposing forward.

C- He panics, tries to rid himself of the puck and flips it down ice. It is either a suicide pass to a New Jersey defenceman in the slot, an icing call or a puck-over-the-glass penalty.

Next: Detroit Red Wings Injured Players On The Mend

Smith is constantly driving possession and making smart, dependable plays all over the ice. His defensive game is sustainable and much stronger than we’ve ever seen. His competition and zone starts are getting more difficult, and he continues to maintain great possession numbers. He produces points heavily with no power play time despite having the best breakout and zone entry abilities and overall offensive skill.

Brendan Smith is a dynamic player whose abilities are unmatched in Detroit’s back end, and is turning it around, stealthily but surely.

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