SUN Hockey Pool

Take a break, kid

ROBIN BROWNLEE, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

It wasn't until Ladislav Smid started tossing and turning at night in the last two weeks that Edmonton Oilers' coach Craig MacTavish decided to give the rookie defenceman a rest.

Usually, it's the other way around.

Coaches often lose sleep trying to break fuzzy-cheeked rearguards like the 20-year-old into the NHL. In the case of Smid, that's not the issue.

WAYWARD ELBOW

After playing in every one of the Oilers first 36 games, Smid, who has had some sleepless nights because of an aching tooth courtesy of a wayward elbow against Colorado, got last night off against the Vancouver Canucks.

A rest well-earned.

"A tooth is broken," said Smid, whose shortcomings of late have been dental as opposed to mental.

"I found out after three days. It was so sore. I didn't sleep for like four nights. It's still sore."

Smid, who came to the Oilers with Joffrey Lupul in the trade that sent Chris Pronger to the Anaheim Ducks, has been a fixture on MacTavish's blue line this season alongside Steve Staios.

With just one pro campaign under his belt - a stint with the Portland Pirates of the AHL last season - Smid made the jump almost seamlessly, playing just over 18 minutes a night for MacTavish so far.

But the lanky rookie has looked a bit ragged lately, thanks in large part to the throbbing in his jaw after getting clocked Dec. 19.

He's been a minus-3 in his last four games.

"It's just a case of a young guy needing a little bit of a break," MacTavish said.

"He's played phenomenally well for us to this point in the season. It's a case of getting him a little bit of a rest."

Jan Hejda drew in against the Canucks, leaving Smid to look on from the press box for the first time this season, one in which he's scored 0-3-3 and is a minus-9.

While those numbers aren't great, few people expected Smid, taken ninth overall by Anaheim in the 2004 Entry Draft, to even be here. You can count the number of 20-year-old blue liners in the NHL on one hand.

"I was a little bit tired the last few days," admits Smid. "I was ready to play, but it's hockey and it's the coach's decision.

"I feel comfortable on the ice with Stevie or with (Matt Greene) like in the last game. I feel good, just a little bit tired."

For Smid, a member of the Czech Republic's team at the 2006 World Junior Championship in Vancouver, a break and a night off to see the game from a different perspective won't hurt the learning process.

STILL ADJUSTING

"For sure," he said.

"This (NHL) is so much quicker.

"More skilled guys on every single team, so it's more difficult for me mentally and physically.

"It's been a really good experience for me to play against the top lines of Calgary or Vancouver or Nashville. I like it. I'm so glad the coach gave me this time on the ice."


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