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Nashville Predators sign Craig Smith to entry level contract

After deciding against a return to college hockey this fall at the University of Wisconsin, center Craig Smith has now signed his entry-level contract with the Nashville Predators. This, from the team:

Nashville Predators President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile announced today that the club has signed 2009 fourth-round pick (98th overall) Craig Smith to a two-year entry level contract.

Smith, 21 (9/5/89), turns pro after spending the past two seasons at the University of Wisconsin, amassing 76 points (27g-49a) and 159 penalty minutes in 82 games. The Madison, Wis., native ranked ninth in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in goals (19), tied for 11th in conference scoring (19g-24a-43pts) in 2010-11, in addition to tying for fourth in game-winning goals (5), and sixth in power-play points (8g-15a-23pts). As a freshman in 2009-10, Smith helped the Badgers advance to the 2010 NCAA National Championship Game (on a team that also included current Predator Blake Geoffrion) and was named to the WCHA All-Rookie team after finishing ninth in NCAA freshman scoring (8g-25a-33pts). He also joins defenseman Ryan Suter as UW Badgers in the Predators organization.

The 6-1, 197-pound center made his international tournament debut for the United States this past May as one of two underclassmen named to the country's entry at the 2011 World Championships. Smith went on to be named one of Team USA's three best players of the tournament after leading the team in goals (3) and ranking second in points (6) in seven tournament games.

Recently, SB Nation's Edmonton Oilers blog Copper & Blue published an analysis of how the 2008 draft-eligible class performed last season, using the concept of NHL Equivalency to compare offensive stats from college, junior hockey, or other leagues side-by-side.

Smith, who was draft-eligible in 2008 but not actually chosen until 2009 by the Preds, came out 12th in those rankings, ahead of Colin Wilson at #17. Whether one is actually ahead of the other developmentally isn't so important, but the fact that Smith is in that ballpark suggests that he may make an impact at the NHL level sooner rather than later.