Ladislav Smid takes the fourth slot in Copper & Blue’s top-25 under 25. He’s an excellent young player and he fills a role that is in short supply on the Oilers’ blue-line: defensive defenceman. It’s also, unfortunately, a role that often takes years for a young defenceman to mature into, because stopping top NHL players from scoring is an incredibly difficult task.
Naturally, there have been some growing pains. Eager to show that the return on the Chris Pronger trade was full value as well as depleted on the blue-line, the Oilers rushed Smid into the NHL too early, and he drowned in the deep end over the start of his career. He isn’t drowning any more. At times, it’s even looked as though he’s started to turn into a player that wins games for his team, but as we’ll see after the jump it may be too early to make that statement.
The caveat with Smid has always been to what extent his results have been driven by playing with Lubomir Visnovsky, the Oilers finest defenceman and possibly the best puck-mover the team's had on the ice since Paul Coffey (yes, the Apostate was a better defenceman but he wasn't as skilled at moving the puck). Earlier this month, I noted over at my other place that Visnovsky was having a huge impact on Smid's results. Using Vic Ferrari's excellent timeonice.com I ran the numbers together and apart, and here's what I came up with:
|With Visnovksy||+26/-18 = +8||+269/-246 = +23||+484/-488 = -4|
|Without Visnovsky||+9/-12 = -3||+102/-166 = -64||+186/-308 = -122|
All numbers above are on-ice figures that come at even-strength.
The disparity between those numbers is incredible. With Visnovsky, Smid's had the benefit of some percentage help (as shown by a great +/- despite even shooting numbers) but he's kept his head above water and on the 2009-10 Edmonton Oilers that's an incredibly difficult thing to do. Without Visnovsky, for every 100 shots while he's on the ice, the Oilers are outshot 62-38.
According to Gabriel Desjardins, Smid's played relatively easy minutes with relatively good teammates, although of course those numbers are heavily influenced by the percentages. Why then does he rate so highly on this list?
There are a few reasons for that ranking. First off, Smid gets a lot of defensive zone work - over the three years Desjardins has tracked, he's never once had more offensive zone draws than defensive zone draws. Secondly, I give Smid credit for his size and physical play; normally I defer strictly to on-ice results but teams do need players with that skill-set and Smid has it.
The most important reason for this rating, though, is the role Smid is playing. Defensive defenceman is a job with a very steep learning curve, and it's not a role that most 24 year-olds can handle. Smid has shown a lot of encouraging signs, and his overall numbers have progressed nicely over the past three seasons. I believe he's on the cusp of turning into a difference maker.