The evolution of Ladislav Smid is nearly complete.
Having been drafted as a slight, skilled defenceman with offensive potential, Smid has developed into a strong, tough-to-play-against, aggressive blue liner. One willing to drop the mitts and settle things pugilistically if required.
"I changed my hockey a lot," Smid said. "When I was 17 or 18, I was more of a skilled, puck-moving defenceman. Then when I got to the NHL, our team had four or five guys like that and I had to change the style of my hockey, which is what I did.
"I have been working on that the past four or five years, hopefully I can expect to do that type of role."
A former first-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks, Smid, 24, has been refining his game ever since coming to the Oilers as part of the Chris Pronger trade in 2006.
In four years, he's filled out physically and has developed an edge on the ice, making him unpleasant to go up against in the corners and in front of the net.
This season, Smid is expected to play on the Oilers' second defensive pairing.
"I expect Laddy to be a real important part of our back end," said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. "Where he ends up in terms of his role, I don't know just yet.
"I think there is some offence in there, I don't think there's any doubt about that. I do believe he has the makings of a good, shutdown defenceman. I like his edge and I like the belligerent way that he does play the game."
Last year, Smid had a goal and eight assists in an injury-shortened 51-game season.
He went on to average over 19 minutes of ice time starting the year behind Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky, Denis Grebeshkov and Steve Staios.
The departure of all four means Smid is forced to move up on the depth chart this season.
It's a role he's relishing.
"I just want to prove myself as a top-four defenceman," Smid said. "I want to show everyone I can do that role on the team. That's my No. 1 objective on this team.
"I want to play my game, be solid defensively, make the simple first pass, be physical, stand up for my teammates and be all around solid."
Smid is prepared to put in the work associated with a top-four defenceman, realizing that simply because he starts there, does not necessarily mean it's where he'll stay.
Despite losing four of their original six defencemen from a year ago, the Oilers are still deep in the position, especially when it comes to the hard-nosed defensive types.
Smid will also be looked on to provide some leadership on a team featuring a trio of highly-touted rookies Ñ a situation he's familiar as the ninth overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
"It's kind of funny, but they're trying to rebuild the team, so I think it's important for the younger guys like us to try and step it up," Smid said.
"Even for guys like Gibby (Tom Gilbert), who is older, but he's only been in the league for four years, we have to stand up, be leaders and help the younger generation. We lost a lot of leadership with Ethan (Moreau) and Steve (Staios) leaving."
Like everyone associated with the club, Smid is excited at the prospect of a better season.
"Just the attitude and atmosphere is totally different from last year," he said. "Everyone is positive and excited. I think the system that we've been given works for us. Everybody is working really hard out there and doing what they're supposed to do. It's really nice to see with the excitement and attitude. It should be an exciting year."