Ladislav Smid

Earl Weaver was a very successful big league manager, Dick Williams too. They were not similar in style (although their approach was pretty much identical. Fury) but they did have one very important thing in common: they rarely (if ever) put young players in a position to fail. For most of this past season I worried the Oilers were putting Smid in a positon to fail, but find myself evaluating his season and being impressed he survived it. This was a very difficult year to be a 20-year old rookie defenseman in Edmonton, and it was a curious decision by the Oilers to give him the job he got in training camp. Kevin Lowe may have seen something of himself in Smid, or perhaps they felt he was the best option available (although I don’t believe that) for top 4D minutes.

Weaver used to insist that pitchers (even the gifted ones) begin their big league careers in the bullpen, and the Orioles minor leagues used to have the most ridiculous stats because they’d wait on a player at a certain level before elevating him to Triple A or the majors.

Williams used to identify young talent that others had passed over, or find it in places no one else would even bother to look.

I think Craig MacTavish has some of both of these things. A clear example of a player who found his way to the majors at least partially due to MacT would be Fernando Pisani, whose college and minor league career involved a lot more checking that what he was doing as a St. Albert Saint a decade or so ago.

You can pretty much identify the players MacT is going to like a long way out. Many of us felt Pouliot would appeal to the coach’s eye for talent, and this has held true. An example would be a recent comment on Pouliot on March 5, 2007: “From what I’ve seen from him, he plays a responsible game. There’s no reason he can’t play a third-line role if he can’t fill a top-two line spot. There are a lot of players, of which we have a few, who have to play on your top two lines, otherwise they’re not going to play. He’s not one of those guys. He’s a guy who can play that third-line centre spot.”

I’m not saying MacTavish is an open book, or that Pouliot has to stop working, but he’s clearly impressed the coach to the point where he’ll get an increased workload this fall.

I think Ladislav Smid is an example of a player who was brought along at the organization’s speed instead of his, but am willing to backtrack a little from my March concerns. It might have been better for him to play another season in the minor leagues, but with Smid being partial return on Chris Pronger it wouldn’t have looked to good to send the kid out. Smid played in the NHL at age 20 last season, going 3-7-10 in 77gp (minus 16).

Among the things we know about how coach MacTavish brought him along:

  • Smid was partnered with veteran Steve Staios for much of the season. It may benefit long term but sacrificed the immediate future (Edmonton didn’t have a shutdown pairing until Hejda started to play more with Jason Smith. Tjarnqvist was in the mix somewhere in there too) by giving at-bats to an inexperienced player from the start. It most certainly didn’t help in the win column, and with Jan Hejda idling in the driveway the Oilers certainly had a better option.
  • Smid got mid-level minutes (according to Desjardins’ he was 4th on the scale among Oilers D) in terms of difficulty and survived. There were times when his confidence seemed to fade (and once when he took a major hit and seemed to lose focus/confidence) but the experience will hopefully pay off next season and beyond. The Oilers have to hope he’s a guy who’ll have 5 years experience at 25 instead of one year’s experience 5 times.
  • Smid’s -16 is not as bad as it looks in the context of the overall defensive numbers. He was better than Matt Greene (-22 in softer minutes), and -7 before the horrible slide in Feb-April. He was not a disaster October-January, although clearly overmatched for much of the season and prone to vapor lock like all 20-year old rookies who play his position.

Smid’s confidence was the thing to fret over, but he seems to be a pretty even tempered fellow. I believe his best comp is still Tommy Albelin and that’s a compliment. One thing that is very important to remember is just because you’re a successful defender as a rookie in the NHL it doesn’t mean you’ll have a long career.

I’d rather have a guy who finishes like Tommy Albelin than a guy who started like Tom Bladon. And let’s not do this sort of experiment for a really long time. It makes me grumpy.

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17 Responses to "Ladislav Smid"

  1. IceDragoon says:

    Smid played the last 15 games plus 2 periods on the top pairing with Smith and didn’t crumble. From Jan 27th till then he had been playing with a one-legged Staios. Think his performance may have cemented our GM’s and D coach’s opinions of the lad?

    Me too.

  2. Lowetide says:

    Good stuff, Louise. We’ve GOT to get you blogging (my invitation stands btw).

    I still wish they’d brought him along a little slower (like they did Semenov, but with better results obviously) but admit to feeling bullish about his future.

    Problem now is where to put him? Do you keep him with Staios and go Pitkanen-???? on the top pair? I don’t think Greene can play there, and imo it would be better to have Souray on the third pairing (the MAB slot) so he can play 8 minutes a night on the PP.

    Any ideas Louise?

  3. IceDragoon says:

    Thank you, but…

    This medium is not my forte. It’s been a long time since highschool english, tho I drove my teachers crazy then, too. I write like I talk. ;-D I’d spend too much time editing my words and still not be satisfied with what I was trying to say. I’ll just continue to join your discussions when I can. And, I have one more onerous task to tend to this summer then I’ll return to HFB to prepare for the season.

    ………

    You just did the rookie minutes, Lain. Tell me, who could have taken some of his load?

    Yeah, KLo should have brought in some help, but perhaps, all opposing GMs replied to his queries with, “Hemsky!”.

    Hejda in the lineup sooner may have helped, but maybe he’s one of those players that don’t show well in practise. He sure showed well in game action till injured.

    “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.” Smid didn’t die.

    As for Souray, I think you may be selling him short. He started out in Jersey. He can handle >23 minutes a night, and we have a few D who are capable on the PP.

    Besides… summer’s not over. ;-D

  4. IceDragoon says:

    Sorry…

    As it stands… I’m leaning towards Smid on the third pairing with Greene or the second pairing with Souray(RD) first, then Staios… if the hockey gods smile on us.

  5. doritogrande says:

    I’m of the opinion that we cut the cord on the Smid-Staios tandem. There is no doubt in my mind that Smid benefitted from this pairing last year, but Staios is a very important commodity in the Oilers lineup this coming season. Sheldon Souray will need Staios this coming season with him. While it is true that Souray entered the NHL as a defensive specialist in New Jersey, he’s lost a step with age and needs a player who is strong defensively with him. Matt Greene cannot handle the minutes Souray is likely to command this year as he should be considered the Number 1 defenseman on the Oilers blueline.

    First Pairing – Souray and Staios

    Smid is still capable of handling top-4 minutes on the Oilers this season, even with all the acquisitions. I look at him playing with Joni Pitkanen on the second pairing, which looks to be a very speedy, puckmoving tandem with lots of flash and pizazz. Smid gets to learn the offensive aspects of the game this year from Pitkanen, and Pitkanen can afford to play a little more towards the offensive side of hockey with the Staios-trained Smid ready to back him up.

    Second Pairing – Pitkanen and Smid

    We can’t afford to keep Matt Greene out of the lineup many nights. The kid’s got NHL experience and he’s a very rare talent on the Oilers blueline this year, the pure defensive defenseman. He can handle his own in the 5-6 spot with increased PK duty with the loss of Smith. Tarnstrom gets the nod paired with Greene, because he’s got more NHL experience than Grebeskov. He’s a slick puckmover with a cannon of a shot from the point. I don’t remember a lot of him from the 05-06 season, apparently he was injured for most of it, but he seems to have put up solid numbers wherever he’s played. He shouldn’t look out of place on the Oilers blueline.

    Third Pairing – Greene and Tarnstrom

    Grebeskov is the 7th defenseman because he’s on a one-way NHL contract, but I don’t think he ends the season in the pressbox. I’m excited to see what the kid can do and believe he has enough potential to be a top-4 defenseman for us come the end of the season.

    When, not if, injuries happen, look for Roy or Gilbert to be the first callups, dependant on who goes down to injury. If Staios or Greene go down, I see Roy getting the callup. If it’s Souray, Pitkanen, Smid, Tarnstrom or Grebs, Gilbert comes back to Edmonton.

    That’s just my take on this year’s coming defense, I’m open to opinions.

  6. IceDragoon says:

    doritogrande said:
    Second Pairing – Pitkanen and Smid

    Which one of these, left shooting, young men are you switching to right D?

    Personally, I’d rather switch over a veteran. Chances are, they have played the other side on more than a few ocassions. You don’t have to be fast to be a shutdown D. Look at Jason Smith.

    I don’t usually do this…

    If the hockey gods smile and KLo doesn’t trade…

    Staios – Pitkanen
    Souray – Smid/Grebeshkov
    Greene – Smid/Grebeshkov/Tarnstrom
    to start

    Souray – Pitkanen
    Staios – Smid/Grebeshkov
    Greene – Smid/Grebeshkov/Tarnstrom
    if Souray gets it.

  7. doritogrande says:

    icedragon, yeah, I could also live with Pitkanen-Staios and Smid-Souray also, just as long as both Pitkanen and Souray have safety nets that are solid defensively and are not named Matt Greene. Nothing against Greene, but he’s not ready for top-4 minutes this season.

    Any idea on what Grebeskov is going to be like defensively? I’m pretty sure he’s solid offensively, but haven’t heard anything that talks about his defensive aspects.

  8. IceDragoon says:

    Any idea on what Grebeskov is going to be like defensively? I’m pretty sure he’s solid offensively, but haven’t heard anything that talks about his defensive aspects.

    Sorry…

    Just trusting that KLo hasn’t lost his ability to judge D. Training camp will be my virgin view of the young Russian. I find it very tiring, but I try to attend as many days as possible. Gives me a baseline read on the team. I’ll post my reports on HFB.

  9. Black Dog says:

    LT – what were Grebeshkov’s numbers last year and what about Hejda’s the year previous? I know you have published them before.

    Or do we have anybody else we can look to?

    Was it in the AHL during the lockout that the Russian was really terrific?

    Is it too much to hope that he is a diamond in the rough?

    I like Laddy as well – they put him in a tough position and he survived, although more often then not he looked, well, like a 20 year old out there.

    He’d be better served on the third pair, I think, but the Oilers seem to have a lot of applicants for that position – everyone other then Staios and Pitkanen, imo.

  10. Art Vandelay says:

    If the analogy is to hold, I think MacTavish is Jim Fanning. He had the wrong guy on hand when the ace went down at a crucial time in the playoffs.

  11. Lowetide says:

    bdhs: Grebeshkov was 47gp, 8-8-16 for Lokomotiv (RSL). His big season was in the AHL in 04-05, 5-44-59 in 75gp (that was the lockout season so the AHL was really good).

    In 05-06 Hejda was 50gp, 3-13-16 in the RSL (very similar numbers). Grebeshkov was highly rated in his draft year (I knew who he was and don’t follow the draft as closely as some) but I don’t think we can really slot him ahead of anyone but Gilbert at this point:

    1. Pitkanen
    2. Staios
    3. Souray
    4. Tarnstrom
    5. Smid
    6. Greene
    7. Grebeshkov
    8. Gilbert
    9. Roy

  12. Lowetide says:

    Art: Jim Fanning. WHY did he call in Steve Rogers and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD why didn’t he take him out when Ron Cey hit the ball to the track.

    Coming up on 26 years and I can still see the ball and “he’ll touch him all.”

    Rick Monday. Argh.

  13. jon says:

    Grebeshkov projects to be a Vitaly Vishnevski/Danny Markov type of Russian defender but with excellent wheels and passing skills. Who knows what we’re actually getting, but Prendergast did speak highly of him without using hyperbole, meaning that either he’s not that great or KP is very confident in his abilities and doesn’t feel the need to dress him up.

    Personally I think Grebeshkov might surprise pleasantly as Hejda did before him, though it’s very likely he’ll suffer from the same ailment as several other Oiler defenders such as Gilbert and Smid: Needs seasoning before ready to help win games.

  14. Lowetide says:

    jon: I think Grebeshkov might surprise too, but if he does then it’ll be from the back of the roster. He’s got a one-way deal so I’ll give credit if he ends up on the top four and the Oilers have had outrageous success with guys who are just hanging about (going back to Staios but also including Hejda and others).

    He’s a guy I’m hoping for but don’t think they/we can count on. In that way he is similar to Hejda.

  15. rickibear says:

    Smid will be fully physically developed in 7 years. But physical core strength really develops from age 18-22. He will hopefully be much stronger this year.

    Grebeshkov’s defensive partner in RSL was Igor Ulanov: 33GP 0-5-5. Doesn’t RSL have less of a tendency to give second assists.

  16. Jeremy says:

    Maybe it’s blasphemy to mention a division rival in any positive way, but I follow the Oilers and the Canucks. This year I noticed parallels between Smid and Krajicek — young Czech defensemen with great potential, thrown in as quieter parts of big-name trades, first-round picks, both got a fair bit of ice time with their new teams last year, and both looked like they were in over their heads at times…but also showed great potential (offensively and defensively) at other times.

    I suspect Krajicek didn’t get as much ice time because Vancouver’s top-4 D was definitely stronger than Edomonton’s through most of last year. Smid is a bit bigger and three years younger — considering how much he played this year, he’ll likely be the better player.

  17. IceDragoon says:

    Something I forgot to add in my reasoning for moving Souray to RD…

    He doesn’t have an outlet pass to speak of, so putting him on his backhand off the wall is not a huge loss.

    I would think we’d want to keep our lefthanded weapon feeds to our RW/Cs.

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