SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers' Smid knows his role

Ladislav Smid takes care of his end of the ice (Eric Miller, Reuters).

Ladislav Smid takes care of his end of the ice (Eric Miller, Reuters).

Robert Tychkowski, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:41 PM ET

EDMONTON -- Forget young stars and re-born netminders, Ladislav Smid is the real poster boy for the Edmonton Oilers.

He’s been great in his own end and he hasn’t scored a goal in 109 games, which pretty much makes him the prototypical Oiler.

“I want to get one,” said the 25-year-old defenceman. “Sooner rather than later.”

Um, the “sooner” train left the station a long, long time ago, given that it’s been nearly two years since Smid’s last goal, Dec. 5, 2009 against Dallas, but later is still an option.

“Trust me, we want him to score a goal,” said defence partner Tom Gilbert. “We’re all waiting, and it’s going to be a great celebration when it happens. It’ll come, he gets his opportunities, he gets his shots through.”

That he’s been blanked this long and is still emerging as one of Edmonton’s most-played defencemen (only Gilbert averages more ice time) tells you how his own end of the ice is looking.

“My game is to be a shutdown defenceman, really good in our zone, be physical, block lots of shots, make the simple plays and play really hard on their top lines,” said Smid, who came to North America with some offensive upside, selected ninth overall by Anaheim in 2004 before coming to Edmonton in the Chris Pronger trade.

“When I got in the league I was pretty young and we had a lot of puck-moving defencemen so my role kind of changed the last few years and I’ve really worked on my defensive game.”

Not without some rather awkward growing pains. He was minus 16 and minus 15 in his first two seasons with the Oilers, and minus 10 after a slow start in his fifth season last year. But he finished strong in 2011 and started even stronger this fall.

“I think he’s more at peace with who he is as a player,” said head coach Tom Renney. “I think he’s really embracing the idea of being a good, sound defender first

“He’s letting the game come to him a bit as opposed to chasing it down. I think he’s just showing a level of maturity in his game that’s helped him.”

So has an off-season without turmoil. Three summers ago he discovered he was no longer in the Oilers plans, right before Dany Heatley called off the trade that would have sent Smid to Ottawa.

And two summers ago he was recovering from some of the most invasive surgery imaginable — doctors went in through the front of his neck, shoving his voice box to the side, to repair a vertebra — and couldn’t train a lick all summer.

Throw in the worst two teams in Oilers history and it’s not hard to understand why Smid struggled to gain traction.

But a quiet healthy off-season and a better team seem to agree with him.

“I had a whole summer of training, I trained for almost four months,” he said. “My goal was to establish myself as a top four defenceman. I’m still learning, but I’m feeling more and more confident in that position.”

Lining up with Gilbert, the yin to his yang, is also a good mix.

“His positional play has been awesome,” said Gilbert. “He’s blocking shots, he’s physical, he’s just been in the right spots at the right times. For me it’s been great having a partner like that, it makes the game a lot easier.”

And with 31 career NHL goals to Smid’s four, he scores enough for the two of them.

“I like the chemistry with him, he’s a really smart player, a good puck-moving defenceman,” said Smid. “I like to stay back and cover his butt.”

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@Sunmedia.ca

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