With his best season yet officially in the books, Nashville Predators forward Craig Smith is happy to look back on an impressive bounce-back campaign.
The Predators leading goal scorer this year, Smith’s name will always sit at the top in the ledger for the 2013-2014 season. Twenty-four tallies for the 24-year-old forward was quite an accomplishment for the third-year center, especially when viewed in the light of the four goals he had in the lockout-shortened season in 2013.
“Really it was all about loosening up and playing the way I know I can,” Smith said. “Play wild and having fun; just shooting the puck and relying on the abilities I have on offense.”
Fourteen goals his rookie year, four the next and now 24 this season, what Smith’s personal benchmark will be next season is a fair question to ask.
“I don’t know what is next exactly. It’s kind of a cycle after a season. You have to hit the reset button at the end of the year and make sure you get away from it and then come back hard with a new goal,” said Smith. “I’m ready to wrap up this year, I’m pretty pleased with it. It’s good to bounce back from the past season and play the way I knew I was capable of.”
The struggles of Nashville to develop reliable scorers have been pretty well documented and if Smith could take another step forward in the 2014-2015 campaign, the feat could not be easily ignored. The Predators haven’t had a 30-goal scorer since forward Patric Hornqvist had exactly that total just over four years ago.
If Nashville hires a more offensive-minded head coach to replace former bench boss Barry Trotz, then Smith might just record another season of which he’s proud. The Madison native spent two seasons at the University of Wisconsin and credits his coach there with helping him prepare for the NHL.
“I think a lot of it was where I went. Mike Eaves prepared me for the pro game more than a lot of other college coaches would,” Smith said. “I had two different coaching regimes when I was there, but Eaves still made a big impact. The style he wants to play is really a pro style, and it helped the adjustment period.”
The fast skating winger credits his coaches for his success and the right hire in Nashville might be just the assistance Smith needs to make his encore next year another historic one.