Was there a more underrated or under appreciated player for the Nashville Predators than Craig Smit?
In 79 games Smith tallied 25 goals and 26 assists to go along with a +20 rating. The “JOFA” line, Kevin Fiala, and Tolvanen-watch were getting the lion-share of the attention, but Craig Smith kept plugging away to one of his best seasons in Nashville.
Consider that Craig Smith’s 25 goals were good for #3 on the team. His 26 assists put him #7 among his teammates. He was #6 on the team in total points with 51. Smith’s #2 rank among all Preds skaters in Power Play Goals with 9 on the man-advantage. He set career-highs in takeaways (61 and #2 on the team), blocked shots (35), and goals per game (0.32). Smith led the team in Relative Corsi at Even Strength (8.3) and Relative Fenwick at Even Strength (8.6), proving that when 15 was on the ice, the Preds were usually on the attack.
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Craig Smith made a serious impact for the Nashville Predators this season.
Season in Summary:
After a magical Cup run in the 2016-17 Playoffs, Nashville looked like a major contender headed into the 2017-18 campaign. With the top line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson set in stone, the other 3 lines remained a bit of a mystery. Mike Fisher had filled the #2 center role the year before but had retired in the off-season. Free agent signing, Nick Bonino, filled the Fisher spot on the roster. Craig Smith figured to be alongside Bonino on that second line, but the rise of Kevin Fiala prior to his leg break in the playoffs along with Colton Sissons fine playoff performance and the steadiness of Calle Jarnkrok meant the other wing could be a fluid role. Smith’s previous season didn’t exactly scream sure-thing, either. In 2016-17 he managed 29 total points on 12 goals and 17 assists.
On November 5, 2018, the Predators made a move to acquire Kyle Turris from the Ottawa Senators. Turris centered the 2nd line with Smith and Fiala on his wings, and the rest was history. The trio combined for 32 goals for and just 13 goals against for the remainder of the season. The line went through a dry spell for a bit, but ultimately gave the Preds scoring threats from the left, right, and center on both of the top two lines.
Turris (along with some positive regression to the mean) helped Smith find his groove again as his shooting percentage went from 7.7% in 2016-17 to 10.9% in 2017-18. As the number of shots increased, partially due to Smith’s solid defensive game, the goals increased as well. Then the wins followed.
Craig Smith had a great year that reminded fans of the rookie version. Smith excited everyone when he jumped from college to the NHL showing flashes of offensive ability Smashville had been dying to see. As a result, there wasn’t much to dislike about his 2017-18 NHL season. He is tenacious to the puck, has the speed to put defenses on their heels, and was cooking at 1.23 goals and 1.28 assists per 60 minutes. That’s a solid line for a second line winger.
The main area that we can hope to see improvement from the Wisconsin alum, it is consistency. The Turris line drought didn’t harm the Predators in the end. They won the division and conference. However, Smith could have easily been in the 60 point range had they not hit that wall.
Season Grade: A