The law of averages screamed that Cole Smith was going to score sooner or later for the Nashville Predators. He’s been the topic of discussion for continuously getting starting lineup spots, and not logging a single goal certainly wasn’t helping his cause.
Smith scored in the Predators’ thrilling 5-3 win over the LA Kings on Saturday night, a game that required resiliency and an aggression level we haven’t seen enough from this team over the course of the season.
On thing you can always count on from Smith is a high intensity level of play. The Predators needed that in this one from everyone from the superstars to the role players like Smith.
For Smith, it’s not only his first goal for the Nashville Predators. It’s his first NHL goal, too:
A long journey for Smith to being a regular NHL starter
Smith made his NHL debut for the Nashville Predators on January 14, 2021. He only played one game that season and logged just 5:57 of ice time.
The following year, Smith appeared in another eight games for the Predators. He had just three shots on goal during that span, all coming in one game.
With a much more constant role in the lineup now, Smith has found himself in plenty of situations where you though his first NHL goal was coming. He has dinged the post and has been in odd man rush situations where he just couldn’t make the finishing play.
On a team that struggles badly to consistently score, it’s hard to understand the reasoning for why Smith has played in 40 of the 46 games for the Predators. A player like Philip Tomasino, who scored 11 goals and 32 points in his rookie campaign, would seemingly be the better fit than Smith for a team that needs more offensive playmakers.
Aside from that, Smith has clearly become gradually more aggressive on the offensive end compared to the previous two seasons. His ice time has increased to 11:49, still very low, compared to well below 10 minutes per game before.
Smith’s shot totals have also gone up. Only three shots on goal in his first nine NHL games, but this season he has 46 shots on goal in 40 games. He has also added nine assists.
Smith’s role with the Nashville Predators
Despite his lack of offense, Smith fits the mold of the Predators in terms of physical play from their forwards.
The Predators as a team are fourth in the NHL in hits, and Smith is third on the team with 107. That’s by far his best trait is his high motor and relentless pursuit of the puck in forechecking situations.
Smith also sees a lot of time on the Predators penalty kill unit, which has gradually gotten better over the course of the season. It’s ranked 14th in the NHL and is called upon a lot to get through critical turning points in games.
Of course the goal production needs to be drastically better from Smith to warrant taking a spot away from someone else, like Tomasino. The loss of Eeli Tolvanen on waivers also didn’t help matter considering he’s flourishing with the Seattle Kraken.
With his lack of offensive production, Smith obviously has to tone down the penalties. He’s third on the team in penalty minutes with 41, with five of those being majors. It’s the careless minor penalties that has to be reigned in. Especially with minimal offensive production to offset it.
To that degree, Tanner Jeannot is in the same boat as Smith, respectively. Jeannot has only 11 points to go along with 64 penalty minutes. Similar ratio to Smith.
Even so, you still have to be happy for a guy who is undrafted, played four years collegiately and worked his way up through the AHL to finally get his first goal. If he was a player who showed lackluster energy and took plays off, it would be different perhaps. But there is no arguing that Smith leaves it all out there on every shift.
It was really cool to see Smith’s teammates rally around him after his first goal. All kidding aside, this is why we love sports. The comradery, the family aspect of it all for these players.
On Stanley Cup contending teams, Smith is probably not on a starting roster regularly. But for now, the Nashville Predators seem more than pleased to keep starting him. Congrats on your first NHL goal.