Smid adds new dimension

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

Ladislav Smid was coming back from a concussion, so it's understandable if he was initially a little confused by the suggestion.

The Edmonton Oilers defenceman hadn't lined up in a forward position since the third grade, and was startled when head coach Craig MacTavish approached him about doing it against the Detroit Red Wings last night.

"I laughed at first, I thought it was a joke," Smid said. "But now I'm really looking forward to it. I think it's going to be a good experience for me.

"I was the top scorer in the third grade. I don't know why they then decided to put me on defence."

The native of Frydlant, Czech Republic, was activated from injured reserve before the game and skated on a line with Marc Pouliot and centre by Kyle Brodziak.

Just under two weeks ago, Smid suffered a concussion after taking a forearm shiver to the back of the head from former teammate Raffi Torres in a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

With no room for Smid on the blue-line, due in large part to the excellent play of Jason Strudwick so far this season, the Oilers decided to slip him into a forward spot.

SPEED AND SIZE

"I like his speed and his size," MacTavish said. "I've seen him carry the puck -- he's a handful to get it off of, and I think he can give us some jam there with his quickness and his physical play.

"As a defenceman, normally you're going back under siege, and I think it's good to have role reversal once in a while, where you can have a little bit of payback, where you can get in and get on the opponent.

"You know first-hand what it's like to have that type of pressure when you're going back for the puck. We'll see how it goes."

Obtained from the Anaheim Ducks as a part of the Chris Pronger trade, the former first-round pick was projected to be an integral part of the Oilers' blue-line for years to come.

But with the acquisitions of Sheldon Souray and Lubomir Visnovsky and the emergence of both Tom Gilbert and Denis Grebeshkov, blue-line positions were suddenly at a premium. Especially since Strudwick -- signed this off-season to give the Oilers depth -- has been such a pleasant surprise.

"Both Jason and Steve (Staios) have been solid all year," MacTavish said. "They're a real solid pair, with good chemistry together. As a coach, you're hesitant to break that up."

The same can't be said for the forward units, which have failed to develop any chemistry.

The deck has been shuffled more than once already this season, and those on the fourth line have been in and out of the lineup.

Last night, Zack Stortini and Jess Boulerice were relegated to the press box.

"You have to get some jam in your lineup," MacTavish said.

CONSISTENT POP

"We were talking a lot about it today. We need some more consistent pop on that fourth line.

"Ladi is a high-pedigree guy; he's got some skill and he can skate and bang.

"At the start of the year we envisioned Strudwick in that role, where he could play up front and add a physical presence.

"But he's played so reliably well back there that it's tough to take him out right now. That's good for him and good for us."

Smid isn't being pushed up front for his offensive prowess.

He had three goals and seven assists in his first season with the Oilers.

Last year he failed to register a goal while picking up four assists in 65 games. So far this season he has two assists in eight games.

There hasn't been much thought by him when it comes to a goal celebration.

"It's been a while, it's been about a year and half since I've scored a goal," he said. "But maybe during my pre-game nap I'll dream about it."

At six-foot-three, 226-pounds with excellent skating abilities and comfortable with the puck, Smid is expected to create havoc on the forecheck.

He's also not averse to dropping the gloves, if required.

"It's going to a whole new world for me, there are lot of new things both offensively and defensively, so I'm going to try and handle it the best I can," he said.

"I think it's going to be good; I was getting a lot of punishment as a defenceman and now I get a chance to give some of it back."


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