After being drafted by Anaheim ninth overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, defenseman Ladislav Smid quickly rose through the system as the Ducks top ranked prospect on defense. In his first professional season, Smid helped the Ducks AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates, advance to the Eastern Conference Finals of the Calder Cup playoffs. He notched three goals and 28 points in 71 games that season and it seemed his NHL dreams would soon become a reality.
But when Smid finally made his debut at the Honda Center in Anaheim, it came in an Edmonton Oilers jersey.
“It’s a hockey life,” said Smid that night. ”I didn’t expect that I would be traded in the summer after my first season in the AHL…I’m in a new city with a new team but I think that this is good for me.”
Smid and forward Joffrey Lupul were part of the package that brought Norris trophy winning defenseman Chris Pronger to Anaheim. While it was assumed that Lupul would be able to make an immediate impact in the Oilers line-up, Smid was more of an unknown to make the NHL team.
But Smid did manage to make the Edmonton roster out of training camp – a team very different than the one that made it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Oilers experienced an exodus of stars at the end of the season and reloaded with a number of former Anaheim stars including Smid, Lupul and right wing Petr Sykora. Understandably, there was a lot of build up before Edmonton faced Anaheim for the first time since the trade, with at least four players facing their former team.
Unfortunately for Smid, his first game in Anaheim didn’t turn out as well as the 6’3, 204-pound defenseman had hoped.
“It was a big game for us because [of the trade],” said Smid, “and a big game for me because I wanted to beat them. I think we played good the first two periods…we had a lot of turnovers and they scored six goals so we have to learn from that.”
Smid finished the game against Anaheim with a minus-2 rating, his worst showing of the young 2006-07 NHL season. Despite the loss, the team has managed to surprise many people notching a 6-4-0 record through 10 games.
“I think we have a really good team,” said Smid, “good goaltending, good defense and great scorers in [Petr Sykora], Ales Hemsky and [Shawn] Horcoff so I’m not surprised [by the success].”
Smid himself has helped the Oilers to their early success playing in each of the 10 games this season. He has averaged 14:52 minutes of ice time per game and has notched two assists along with a plus-1 rating over that span. He’s also seen his ice time increase to over 17 minutes per game in his last three games played.
Smid’s steady play thus far has no doubt come as a relief to the Oilers General Manager Kevin Lowe and the rest of the Oilers organization.
“I didn’t really know what to expect when he was traded here,” said fellow former Duck Lupul, “but he’s been good every night. I mean he’s aggressive. He’s been above and beyond what you’d expect from a 20-year-old defenseman.”
In first season of professional hockey, Smid adjusted well to the North American style of play – his 28 points last season at the AHL level represented a career best. This season playing at the NHL level, Smid is again adjusting.
But Smid has had help adjusting to both the NHL and life in Edmonton, paired with veteran defenseman Steve Staios. Staios, who is in his 12th NHL season, has been impressed with the poise his fellow blueliner has displayed in his first NHL season.
“I think he understands the game well for a 20-year-old. I mean you expect a lot of mistakes from a young guy like that but we haven’t seen many. It’s been fun playing with him.”
The two have had instant chemistry.
“I think it’s been a positive for both of us,’ said Staios. “We keep things simple, move the puck well and I really am enjoying the pairing. He’s a great kid and he really wants to learn.”
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