It’s collegiate-style hockey in the NHL. It’s the rookies stepping up to fill holes left by consummate veterans; being paid on pale-in-comparison entry-level contracts. It’s a giant leap of trust from the college athlete and the professional team to an additional leap of faith to keep a newly found prodigy in the lineup to start the season. Such is the case of Craig Smith.
Craig Smith, a collegiate dynamo, who left the Wisconsin Badgers before his junior and senior year, must have felt confident that he was going to make it to the show. Adulation from GM David Poile and a watchful eye of NCAA and international scouting on up to head coach Barry Trotz proved worthwhile in aiding Smith’s decision to forgo his last year’s of college eligibility.
Smith had proved to everyone during his stint in the World Championships with Team USA that he would be a possible juggernaut. Leading Team USA in points was no small feat and this kind of exposure and explosion of offense made the Predators organization take a serious look at their 2009 fourth-round draft pick.
GP G A P PIM
2009-2010 Univ. of Wisconsin 41 8 25 33 72
2010-2011 Univ. of Wisconsin 41 19 24 43 87
USA World Championships 7 3 3 6 4
At development camp, Smith was being chattered about as looking ready for the upcoming training camp and pre-season for the Nashville Predators. Smith’s name and attributes were on the lips of many thinking he could make the NHL squad, batted about with names like Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Gabriel Bourque, and Roman Josi.
Throughout training camp and pre-season, Craig Smith worked diligently but without reward. Fans started seeing the deceptive quickness of Smith and his ability to chip and run the puck causing havoc on the opponent’s blue-line. His willingness to fire the puck on net would prove to be beneficial at a later date. It wasn’t until the last game of the pre-season where Craig Smith punched his ticket to the show with an amazing display of defensive agitation and offensive where-with-all.
With time ticking down in overtime against the Carolina Hurricanes, Craig Smith was fore-checking away, battling along the boards and behind the Hurricane net for possession of the puck. He tried to strip the puck two times from the defenseman and on his third try popped the puck into the air where Colin Wilson was waiting to knock it down and drop pass behind him to an awaiting Smith. Without hesitation, Smith threw a wrist shot through traffic at goaltender Brian Boucher and found the back of the net with 10.3 seconds left in the extra period.
After the game, Trotz gave a resonating response of “NO” to whether Craig Smith would be sent back to Milwaukee, and despite the usual code-of-conduct Coach Trotz and the Nashville Predators adhere that the road to the NHL goes through Milwaukee, Trotz and Co. saw fit to leave Smith on the NHL roster since Fisher was still battling a nagging shoulder injury after off-season surgery.
After the first two games of the season, Craig Smith has come into his own with a couple of equally fast linemates in Colin Wilson and David Legwand. This forward line has a combined 10 points in two games and Smith has accounted for 4 of the 10 points.
It may be safe to say that even with Fisher being extremely close to 100% (Fisher attended the back-to-back road trip with the team) Smith will remain in the lineup as Barry Trotz is known for staying with the hot hand (i.e. the Wilson/Legwand/Smith line). All preliminary signs are solid for Smith to carry on his “code-breaking” ways and defying the typical logic of the coaching staff and fans of the Nashville Predators.