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.