Is Craig Smith ready for pro hockey? He thinks so.
If the last two days are any indication, Craig Smith is ready to play in the National Hockey League. The Predators rookies took to the ice playing games against rookies from the Lightning and Panthers organizations, with Smith lighting the lamp 6 times.
Drafted 98th overall in 2009, the former Wisconsin Badger decided to turn pro this summer after only two years of college. Last season he scored 19 goals and added 24 assists for 43 points in 41 games.
When asked about the decision to leave university, Smith said it wasn’t just one thing but several factors that went into determining his future. “Obviously, I was only two years into school,” Smith said, adding “What it all boiled down to was that my body was physically ready. The success I had at the World Championships kind of gave me the sure thing that I was ready to play at the next level and start my career.”
In seven games played, Smith scored 3 goals and added 3 assists, for 6 points, second best on the USA roster. Smith also led the team in plus/minus with +2 and was named one of the top three members on the squad. Before the World Championships, the center had made it clear that he was returning to school for his junior year, but changed his mind after the tournament.
Smith says he was surprised at how easily he fit in at the World Championships. “Actually, I really was [surprised],” he said. “There were a lot of great players over there. A lot of big players. A lot of big names that I was watching since I was 14 or 15 years old. It was neat to play with them and against them.”
Smith is considered an offensive forward, and at the position of center, may end up being the key piece to what the Predators have been missing. Kevin Allen of USA Today wondered just that this past summer when he suggested that Smith had a chance to crack the roster out of camp due to his natural ability to find the back of the net, something the Predators lack, finishing in the bottom third of the League in the goals for category.
Allen isn’t the only one with high hopes for Smith. At the Skate of the Union, Predators General Manager David Poile suggested the 21 year old was ready for a career in pro hockey now. Smith says the confidence the organization has in him as a player helps with his own confidence. “That’s a great compliment. I thank him for saying that, that’s some really good confidence in me. I’m glad he feels that way. I feel confident in my ability moving into the next level,” Smith said.
The Admirals head coach, Kirk Muller, says Smith is impressive to watch. “Smith is a strong player. I’ve been impressed with him so far and his work ethic and skill level,” he said. Muller looks forward to watching Smith play at the NHL level in the upcoming exhibition games and will be interested to see how he does against mainly NHL rosters. Muller says he would not mind an opportunity to coach Smith in Milwaukee, but the former captain of the Montreal Canadiens says he knows his job is to make Nashville better and that any stint in the AHL Smith would do, would be short.
Expectation of Smith continue to rise and Smith shares the expectations for himself. “I have high expectations. I just want to get my feet wet and try to gel and have some fun with it,” he said about training camp.
The question is not if Smith makes the Predators roster, it is when will it happen. Will Smith buck the trend and make the roster opening night or will he perform the short stint in the AHL that is typically required of Nashville players?
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