As we continue with our Nashville Predators season grades, let’s look at the season for Craig Smith and how important he was to igniting the lineup.
Like a few other important players on the Nashville Predators roster, Craig Smith experience a slow start to his season.
Smith didn’t score his first goal of the season until the 10th game in, and then only managed two more goals after that leading up to mid-December.
An aggressive player like Smith is vital to the Predators offensively. He gets a lot of quality shots on goal, pushes hard when forechecking and is always forcing the action.
Even though he wasn’t producing in terms of scoring goals in the first half of the season, his intensity never really wavered.
There was a lot of talk that Smith could be dealt at the trade deadline as he’s due to be an unrestricted free agent. With the Predators struggling so badly and falling back in the standings, it look increasingly more likely that the Predators would become sellers, and possibly include Smith in that.
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That’s when Smith really hit a hot streak and started seeing his luck turn around in terms of scoring goals. His launching point was when he scored two goals against the New York Islanders on December 17th.
After that point, Smith was one of the most productive scorers on the team and helped fuel the engine to getting the Predators back into the thick of the playoff race.
Without Smith’s resurgence, the Predators probably would’ve continued to go in reverse and they certainly wouldn’t have found themselves in a wildcard spot with 13 games remaining.
The Predators made the right decision to hold onto Smith and not trade him. He’s one of their most important players that always shows up with that intensity you need.
I’m thinking the Predators will work out a deal in the offseason to retain Smith, who has always been a consistent 20-plus goal scorer and still has a few really solid years left to give.
Smith ignited the engine
When the team looked like it was running on fumes and about to pull off on the shoulder, Smith came bursting in to help wake this team up. No matter what line he was put on, Smith seemed to light a fire under whoever he was playing with.
Despite the slow start, much like Mikael Granlund, Smith rounded into form and got closer to his career averages as the season progressed. When the season was put to a grinding halt, Smith was pushing for the team lead in goals with 18, and had a very good chance of surpassing last season’s point total of 38 points.
The big memory I take away from Smith, and many will agree, is the hat trick he had against the Islanders back in February. He was on a mission that evening to get his first career hat trick:
What never really changes for Smith is his relentless forechecking, crashing the net and pouncing whenever he gets into high-danger chances, like he did here to lock up the hat trick.
Smith kept up last season’s scoring pace despite seeing a pretty big dip in ice time and seeing his shooting percentage take a slight decrease as well.
I still believe Smith has a lot to give to the franchise that drafted him in 2009, and he reinforced that for me by igniting the bottom six when the Predators were in a tailspin.
CRAIG SMITHRW, Nashville Predators
Hopefully the team will get a chance to finish this out in some sort of a playoff format this summer, and if so, we’ll owe a big thank you to Smith for catching fire in mid-December and always bringing that high energy that has made him one of the fan favorites.
Smith doesn’t get a perfect grade because he didn’t, for many different reasons, start off very productive. However, other factors didn’t help some of these players produce at their highest level early on.
All statistics are courtesy of hockey-reference.com.