Blashill aims to strike balance with Brendan Smith

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Is there a way to find the balance in defenseman Brendan Smith’s game?

Now it’s new coach Jeff Blashill’s turn to somehow blend Smith’s offensive ability, the ability to see a play when others might not see it — but limit the mistakes and offensive adventures that result in scoring chances going the other way.

Blashill was talking about Smith the other day and the strengths Smith possesses.

No coach would want to harness Smith’s ability to rush the puck.

“You want to accentuate your positives, and he has an ability in the offensive zone to be active, shoot the puck, and to make plays happen from the top of circles down,” Blashill said. “But he has to do that without taking on any more risk. We want Brendan to grow in his reward with less risk; that’ll be the biggest thing for him to learn to do that.”

Smith has talked about “efficient” defensemen in his opening days as Red Wings coach and Smith would be an example.

“We’d like efficient defensemen,” Blashill explained. “Efficient means to me lots of positives and very few negatives and that’s going to be the thing he needs to do.”

Blashill mentioned Smith, as well as other defensemen, will get an opportunity on the power play during the exhibition season.

Smith has yet to see substantial time on the unit in his pro career, but was a dangerous offensive defenseman while playing at Wisconsin.

“It’ll definitely be a challenge if that’s how we’re going to go, but if that’s how it is, I just have to make sure to stay focused and get the job done,” Smith said. “It gives me a little more green light to make plays, which is exciting. It’s something I haven’t done since Grand Rapids (in the minor leagues). It’s something I did I college. But I know the style I have to play.

“Play hard defense first, then make sure you can jump up into the rush. With Coach (Blashill) having that confidence in me it’s exciting to show my offensive ability.”

It was a roller-coaster existence for Smith under former coach Mike Babcock, who wanted more of a safety-first style from Smith.

That, in turn, led to some learning and watching as Smith found himself out of the lineup at times, as his offensive risks made for too many rewards for the other team.

There were defensive principles that Babcock ingrained that Smith says always will be important. But Smith is excited about the prospect of hearing a new voice such as Blashill’s.

“Sometimes change is fun,” Smith said. “We have a lot of good players here. The biggest thing is they told us positions are open and just go out there and take it.”