Ladsilav Smid has been maturing as an NHL defenseman in full view of NHL audiences for over 5 years now. We know young people don’t develop in a straight line–ask any parent–and we also know that playing defense in the NHL is a very tough discipline. When you make a mistake, it’s in the net and you’re exposed on the highlight reel. So, congratulations to Laddy Smid for climbing Everest. Here’s hoping you have some company soon.
STUCK IN LODI
There’s a right way and a wrong way to break into the NHL. Bart Crashley (#4) is playing for Detroit back in the 74-75 season in this photo. Despite having one of the truly awesome names in NHL history, Crashley had the bad fortune of playing for some very poor NHL teams. I mean awful. He played about 150 NHL games and the teams he played for were batbleep terrible, including the Wings clubs of the 60s and 70s.
IT CAME OUT OF THE SKY
Now, here’s the way to enter the NHL, soft landing. Dallas Smith was a minor league veteran when expansion hit, and the Bruins took so many losses in the expansion draft that Smith got a legit NHL shot. He ripped off a +33 in year one after expansion and spent most of the next decade playing alongside Orr (#4 also played with Rick Smith, Al Sims and others).
By the way, that’s young Marcel Dionne trying to split the Smith-Orr tandem.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Ladislav Smid entered the NHL the year after Edmonton had all those wonderful defenders and made the Stanley run. In 2005-06, the Oilers boasted Pronger, Smith, Staios and at the deadline added Spacek and Tarnstrom. MA Bergeron was a young chaos D, and the rookie minutes belonged during the regular season to Matt Greene (303, Danny Syvret (123) and Mathieu Roy (13). Total rookie minutes: 439.
The following season, Edmonton lost free agents and traded Pronger and man did they go young. A total of 3200 minutes (about 34%) was devoted to rookies Ladislav Smid, Jan Hejda, Dan Syvret, Tommy Gilbert, Mathieu Roy, Bryan Young and Sebastian Bisaillon.
That beginning–rookies everywhere and not enough actual NHL players–is the "Bart Crashley" entry level option. Not a good option. Not a good option at all. The problem is, Bobby Orr hasn’t played in several decades. So, how best to break in young defenders?
In preparing for a future series on Nashville and their development styles, I came across an amazing item. Here are the NAS rookie defensemen by year over the last several years:
- 03-04: Dan Hamhuis 80, 7-19-26
- 05-06: Ryan Suter 71, 1-15-16
- 05-06: Shea Weber 28, 2-8-10
- 07-08: Ville Koistinen 48, 4-13-17
- 08-09: Kevin Klein 63, 4-8-12
- 09-10: Cody Franson 61, 6-15-21
- 09-10: Alexander Sulzer 20, 0-2-2
- 10-11: Jonathan Blum 23, 3-5-8
That’s an amazing run. About one defender a year over the better part of a decade and the talent level is exceptional. Obviously pedigree has a lot to do with it, but there’s something to be said for stability and developing defensemen one or two at a time.
During the same time period, Edmonton developed several defensemen who ended up having careers but were either one dimensional (MA Bergeron), traded away (Matt Greene) or best described as tweeners (Syvret, Chorney). From the mid 00s, only Laddy Smid and Tom Gilbert (two players Edmonton traded for) have stayed long enough to establish themselves as NHL players who can play top 4D.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Tonight’s game saw the Oilers outplayed and there’s plenty of blame to go around. However, when reviewing the goals scored by Dallas it’s easy to point at young defensemen making mistakes that led to the goals. Young defensemen make you suffer. Best to bring them along one at a time, and to make sure they possess a nice range of skills.
What does it mean for this year? Send Teubert and Chorney back, sit Peckham until he learns a little more about making the safe play and endure the growing pains of Dan Petry’s boy.
The Edmonton Oilers need to acquire a veteran defenseman. Tonight. Even with Ryan Whitney coming back soon, there’s too many deer in the headlights. We saw that just now.