The Prospect

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

You never like to generalize in these situations, but let's.

If the Anaheim Ducks spent a high pick on him, he's good.

You can almost set your watch by the Mallards' track record: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Joffrey Lupul, Bobby Ryan and a handful of other decent, if not spectacular players like Niclas Havelid, Ruslan Salei, Ilya Bryzgalov and Jordan Leopold.

They know what they're doing on draft day.

So if they invest a first round pick on a player, they do it for a reason.

Which brings us to Ladislav Smid, the young defenceman who came to Edmonton from Anaheim in the Chris Pronger trade. He's going to have a lot of responsibility on his shoulders for a 20-year-old rookie, but from what his coaches and teammates have seen so far (which is in line with what the Ducks saw in him when they selected him ninth overall in 2004), he's more than ready for the challenge.

"What I've seen is a guy with really good physical skill and a real willingness to take coaching," said head coach Craig MacTavish.

"He's green, as most 20-year-olds are when you're trying to play defence, and there's lots he's got to learn, but I see lots there.

"I see a player who's going to develop very quickly over the course of the year."

Edmonton's defence has undergone a substantial facelift in the wake of departures by Chris Pronger, Jaroslav Spacek and Dick Tarnstrom, so there isn't much time for Smid (who played for the Portland Pirates last year)to feel his way into the NHL. They need him to be able to play 20 minutes a night, right out of the box, because, frankly, there isn't anybody else.

"Coming into the league as a defenceman at that age is difficult, but he's willing to learn," said Steve Staios, who's been partnered with the Czech native, who speaks limited English, for most of training camp.

"He's a heads up kind of guy who seems to understand the game pretty well and he has a pretty good skill set... and he works hard. He has all the tools to be a good player."

With no incumbent on the roster, the sixth defenceman spot was wide open, but it didn't take long for the six-foot-three, 204-pounder to close it.

"He's very confident," said captain Jason Smith. "You can tell he's played at a high level for a few years. He's aware of what's going on on the ice, he makes good decisions."

Now it's all about bringing him along as quickly as possible, without trying to rush or force anything. It's a delicate balance, learning on the job without hurting the team, but he'll have lots of help. MacTavish says the stability and leadership Staios brings to the tandem should aid in the process.

"A young guy and a veteran, it seems almost like a natural," said the coach. "We'll see how it goes. You want to put him with a guy who understands the game very well and Stevie does."

They all understand what the kid is going through, and are committed to easing his transition from the AHL to the big leagues.

"I remember when I was a young guy, asking questions and getting pointers from other players, it's all part of the process," said Smith.

"If you're willing to do that and to help young guys grow, it's only going to make your team better and you better."


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