Predators sign Team USA and Wisconsin forward Craig Smith to entry-level deal

Craig Smith might not be a name you know very well as a hockey fan and depending on how intense of a fan you are, you may not know him at all. Smith was a member of the 2011 Team USA squad at the IIHF World Championships and played his college hockey at the University of Wisconsin.

After being a fourth round pick of the Nashville Predators in 2009 and having a meteoric rise in his production, he’s taking his talents to the pros after signing a two-year entry-level deal with the Predators.

While at Wisconsin last season, Smith scored 19 goals and added 24 assists in his sophomore year in 41 games with the Badgers. Through two years at Wisconsin, Smith finished with 27 goals and 49 assists and earned a spot on Team USA last year at the World Championships.

There he impressed fans and curious onlookers with his steady and strong play despite being one of two amateur players on the team (Rangers prospect and Boston College player Chris Kreider being the other). In seven games of the tournament, Smith had three goals and three assists as the United States finished eighth. While that eighth place finish sounds bad, the year before saw Team USA end up in the relegation round where they survived finishing 13th out of 16 teams.

Smith now gives himself a chance to make the Predators roster out of training camp and with the Preds always in need of more offensive talent, he’s got a chance. It’s a small one, but a chance nonetheless. At 6’0″ and 180 pounds, Smith has decent size but his age and lack of experience in the Preds system could make the team want to keep him in Milwaukee of the AHL for a bit. If or when he makes the NHL, he’ll have a couple of fellow former Badgers there to greet him in defenseman Ryan Suter and former Hobey Baker Award winner Blake Geoffrion.

As for whether he can play in the NHL right away, Josh Cooper of The Tennessean spoke with his coach at Wisconsin, Mike Eaves, to get his thoughts.

“What has to be proven is he has that next gear in his gearbox to take that next step. He’s a young man who can really skate. He shoots the puck like a national leaguer, he has confidence with the puck. He can do things with it. He’s a dynamic player in terms of his skating. He has things that you would like to think indicate that he can make that step, but he has to show everybody there that he has that gear.”

If there’s a guy in the NHL that will demand finding that gear before getting into the NHL, it’s Predators coach Barry Trotz. If Smith can continue to grow and build on what he was doing last year for both Wisconsin and Team USA, he’ll be yet another home-grown success story for Nashville.

Milbury, Jones: Tkachuk walked the walk; Kings’ response was embarrassing

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The Los Angeles Kings got revenge on Matthew Tkachuk and the Calgary Flames on the scoreboard on Wednesday. But was that 4-1 win enough?

Mike Milbury and Keith Jones provided a lengthy “overtime” segment on NBCSN that brought about some really fascinating takes on the situation between Tkachuk and the Flames versus Drew Doughty and the Los Angeles Kings.

Watch the full video above, as it’s worth your time.

A few interesting lines if you’re (tsk tsk) skipping it:

Milbury: Believes that Doughty didn’t “do enough,” noting that star players sometimes have to stick up for themselves. On the other hand, Tkachuk showed that he can “walk the walk.”

He also gave the Kings a “C-, D+ if not worse” for their overall response. “Fight your own battles,” Milbury said of Doughty.

Jones disagreed to some extent, believing that Kings teammates won’t look at Doughty differently. But Jake Muzzin? He believes that Muzzin’s frequent defensive partner (at least over the years, maybe not this season) backing down from a fight was an embarrassment.

Spicy stuff.

For what it’s worth, Drew Doughty has one career fight (against Joe Thornton [!] in 2011-2) while Jake Muzzin’s lone bout came against Andrew Desjardins in 2012-13, according to Hockey Fights. Does that mean they shouldn’t have dropped the gloves on Wednesday? Milbury and Jones seem to believe that they should have answered the bell.

For more, check out a collection of the early violent moments and Tkachuk’s attempted shot at Doughty. The Kings win is summarized in greater detail here.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.