How Steve Yzerman sees a fit for Gemel Smith with Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman took a low-risk gamble on Gemel Smith, seeing in him a chance to potentially strengthen the bottom-six mix.

Smith, the older brother of Wings forward Givani Smith, was claimed off waivers Wednesday and with his new team Thursday, though he did not practice. Coach Jeff Blashill said he “anticipates Gemel being available Friday” when the Wings (18-17-5) face the Dallas Stars (18-16-2) at Little Caesars Arena. The Wings, who have not played since Monday and were off Wednesday, have won two straight games.

Smith, 27, has been a part-time NHLer for six seasons, logging 24 points in 88 games split among the Stars, Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning.

[MORE GAMES: Detroit Red Wings receive new dates for COVID-19 postponed games]

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“I talked with Steve,” Blashill said Thursday. “Steve would know him as well as anybody. He’s watched him a lot and knows his game. Steve talked to me a little bit about his strengths and potentially where he could help. Hopefully he can be a good addition to our depth here, and hopefully he can be a guy we can move in and play in that center spot and give us some energy and be an energy-type player.”

Injuries to centers Mitchell Stephens (lower body, Nov. 13) and Carter Rowney (lower body, Jan. 4) left the Wings looking at options for the fourth line. Joe Veleno (four points, minus-7 in 24 games) has played in the spot the past five games, but ultimately he’s viewed within the organization as a better fit in a more offensive role. If that is where Gemel Smith slots in, he’d be on a line with Givani, which would realize a Smith family wish.

Blashill laughed as he told of the time one of the brothers leaned on him to persuade his friend, Lightning coach Jon Cooper, to help out.

“Givani was working me, I think it was last year, to try and get Coop to play (Gemel) in a game when he wasn’t playing in Tampa, so they could match up head-to-head against each other,” Blashill said.

Gemel Smith is signed through 2022-23 at a $750,000 salary cap hit. If he doesn’t emerge as a fit, the Wings can place him back on waivers. There’s no risk involved.

Two years ago the Wings traded for goaltender Eric Comrie, and when it quickly became clear he would not be a fit, shed him on waivers. Later that season the Wings claimed forward Dmytro Timashov off waivers; he played five games before the pandemic shutdown, and ultimately his rights were traded away. He’s now in the KHL.

The hope, of course, is that Gemel Smith will have more success.

“It gives us an opportunity to add a player that can give us some depth,” Blashill said. “He’s a guy who’s played in a couple different organizations, has been able to step in at different times and play. He has some NHL experience. He played the center-ice position so that gives us more depth at that position, which is important. He’s got to be a good energy player. We’ll see where it all takes us.

“I haven’t had a chance to even practice with him yet, so let’s wait and see where it goes.”

Talkin’ practice

In addition to the five games they had postponed, the Wings had a couple other games moved around when the NHL released a schedule Wednesday rejiggered by the more than 100 league-wide games that were postponed during the first half. The Wings — minus Dylan Larkin, who will represent the Wings at the Feb. 5 All-Star Game — are off Feb. 3-8, then play six games the rest of the month. That much practice time may be a panacea to a coach, but Blashill knows by the end of it players may be rolling their eyes.

“Our guys will be sick of practice,” he said. “We’ve got a light February and some unique challenges in how we handle it, but it is nice to not have to play every other day and to have some practice time.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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