Detroit Red Wings: 5 Reasons Brendan Smith Could Replace Ericsson Next Year
Now Brendan Smith, if you recall back at the start of last season, was suspended five games for a head shot on Ben Smith.
But will Ericsson crack the lineup again this season with Brendan Smith playing?
If the game against Columbus was any indication, I would have to say no.
Here are five reasons why.
1. Vertical Foot Speed
It's no surprise if you've been watching Jonathan Ericsson play that being a bigger guy, he is by the laws of physics not going to be able to move as quickly as a smaller defenseman.
Now smaller is all relative, because NHL.com lists Brendan Smith as 199 pounds, which is still a solid frame (I mean, heck, Nik Kronwall "Kronwalls" people with an 190 pound body).
But because Smith is smaller, he is faster.
And not only is Smith faster, the effort he puts into his skating when retrieving a dump in or chasing an opponent on a rush is far better than Ericsson. Ericsson plays the point, but often gets beaten on the rush and finds himself out of position.
Which brings me to my next point.
Jump to about the 19 second mark of this video.
You will notice Ericsson "covering" Joe Thornton.
Now don't get me wrong, this is "Jumbo" Joe Thornton. He is one of the best playmakers in the league.
But there's simply no reason to back off of Thornton like Ericsson does here.
Smith is usually in the right position either in the offensive zone, or defensively, and this is evidenced by the "zero" rating his has in his plus-minus rating through four NHL games.
Ericsson by contrast was a minus-19 over his first 89 NHL games.
Positioning is one of the single greatest things that a defenseman can have over an opponent, and watching the greats like Nick Lidstrom this point is emphasized even more.
Being in the right place at the right time makes all the difference, and at least for the moment, Brendan Smith seems to have this aspect on Ericsson.
If positioning is the best attribute that a defender can be known for, the second most important attribute is on the next slide.
3. Puck Poise
Alright so maybe this isn't the best picture of "puck poise."
But make no mistake, Brendan Smith is much more consistent and confident than Jonathan Ericsson when the puck is on his stick.
Smith knows what to do with the puck, and he uses the vertical foot speed I talked about on the first slide to help him accelerate through the neutral zone and set up the offense.
Smith has one giveaway in four games.
Ericsson has 37 giveaways and only nine takeaways in 63 games.
I'll let you do the math on that one.
4. Offensive Zone Dominance
Now I know Jonathan Ericsson isn't an offensive defenseman like Brendan Smith. But Smith has two assists in his first four NHL games.
Jonathan Ericsson has a goal and nine assists in 63 games this season, and 43 NHL points in 223 NHL games.
Those are "meh" numbers, nothing really jumps out about them.
But since Detroit lost Brian Rafalski last season, their offense initially seemed like it would take a hit. It didn't, but the power play has drooped significantly.
This is where Brendan Smith can help substantially.
While Ericsson is content to pass the puck around in the neutral zone, Smith uses his lateral foot speed to work the blue line and look for a shooting lane to get the puck on net. This comes as a breath of fresh air for most Red Wings fans as Detroit has been content to dump the puck into the corners on the power play and not get the puck on net.
An example of this would be last night where Detroit started 0-4 on the man advantage and only had three shots in four power plays. That's unacceptable, and Brendan Smith will slowly change this as he plays in more games.
Now obviously this is the wrong kind of physicality and not the type we want to see out of Smith.
But Smith has cleaned up his game since then, and has four hits and five blocked shots in his four NHL games.
Ericsson on the other hand, despite having 22 pounds on Smith, has 114 hits and only 41 blocked shots in 63 games.
Jonathan Ericsson has to use the body on players more often because he is just too big of a presence not to be throwing his weight around more.
Brendan Smith has a long way to go in his NHL career, but he has already shown that he is willing to play the body, and willing to block shots and help his team win in the defensive zone.
His speed, hustle, positioning and physicality go along very nicely with his talent level and this is why I think if the Red Wings roster stayed where it was defensively, (with Lidstorm and Stuart coming back, though that is not a given either) that Ericsson could find himself playing as the sixth or seventh defenseman most nights.
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