Is Predators prospect Craig Smith Nashville’s big hope for a game breaker?

The Nashville Predators aren’t the kind of team that’s going to blow the doors off the building offensively. Last season the Predators were tied for 21st in the NHL in goals scored with 213 tied with Toronto and Montreal. While goaltending and defense are reasons why they can win games and make the playoffs, they’d like to be able to add that quality to their game in order to better challenge for the Stanley Cup.

With offensive players like Martin Erat, Sergei Kostitsyn, and Patric Hornqvist the Predators have a few nice complimentary offensive pieces to use, but without a game-breaking offensive talent they don’t put a scare into opponents when it comes to scoring goals. While the Predators have done a great job developing talent in goal and along the blue line, producing a few more guys capable of scoring 30+ goals a year would be nice too.

That’s why former University of Wisconsin standout and Predators prospect Craig Smith is grabbing everyone’s attention during the team’s rookie camp this week. In two game, Smith has scored six goals notching two goals against Florida in a 3-1 today and four goals against Tampa Bay in a 7-3 win yesterday.

Did Smith just get hot for a pair of games against equal-aged opponents or is there reason to believe he can do this at the NHL level? The Tennessean’s Josh Cooper finds out that no matter what, Smith’s play has opened eyes for Nashville brass.

“His skating is strong for all levels. He plays with energy and plays with a purpose,” Milwaukee Coach Kirk Muller said about Smith. “He finds holes and he has a good release that’s quick enough to capitalize like he did tonight. I liked his effort and smart decisions with the puck.”

It’s only a rookie game, but Smith comes to camp with the highest expectations out of any Preds first-year players. The team already lists him on the Predators roster on the website — not the prospects roster.

Impressing Kirk Muller is one thing, but impressing Barry Trotz would mean something else entirely. If Smith can show up during Predators training camp and continue to find the net and play strong hockey, it reasons to believe that he could make the NHL this season. One thing going for him now is he’s impressing team captain Shea Weber with his abilities on the ice.

“He’s ultra-skilled,” Weber said. “You saw him skate out there with us. He can really shoot the puck. He has a quick release and he really knows where to put it. He has a goal-scorer’s touch.”

Smith was one of two guys on Team USA’s 2011 IIHF World Championships roster that represented America without having played a single game professionally as of yet (Rangers prospect Chris Kreider the other). Smith’s performance in the World Championships was that of a kid taking advantage of every opportunity as he led Team USA in goals in the tournament with three and finished second to former Wisconsin teammate Derek Stepan in points with six (Stepan had seven points).

While Team USA’s roster wasn’t much to write home about, he got to play against some of the best talent in the world, with a lot of those players being current NHLers. That kind of trial by fire for Smith shows he can handle some of the pressure of playing in a big spot. Can he handle playing in the NHL? So far he looks like a man amongst boys, we’ll see what happens when he goes up against the real men of the NHL.

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.