If there was an all-Predators version of The Avengers, Craig Smith would be Hawkeye. For most of the franchise, you kind of forget he exists. Then he suddenly pops up on screen to take out an entire Chitauri fleet with an exploding arrow and you’re like “oh yeah! That guy!”
Smith’s been one of the team’s most consistent scorers for years. Yet when you’re asked to list the Preds’ key contributors, he seems to slip your mind. When he does come up in conversation, there’s usually a big debate about his role on the team. Even us here at On The Forecheck can’t seem to agree if he’s being used correctly (love you, Bryan).
Regardless of where he is in the line-up, you can’t deny Smith has a positive impact.
The Report Card
What can I say? The dude is a 20-goal scorer.
Smith finished the season with 21 goals, the fifth time he’s hit that mark in the past six seasons. We did see a big drop in points from his 51 in 2018 down to just 38 last year. A lot of that could probably be chalked up to the team’s...ahem...overall offensive struggles.
The rest of his season stats are below. The darker the green, the more “above-average” Smith ranked in that particular category. Overall, not bad...
We know Smith can score, and the stats certainly back that up. But if you want to know what Smith’s role on this team is, just listen to this P.K. Subban response:
“I think when he plays he exudes, kind of, the identity of our team,” P.K. Subban said of Craig Smith after the game. “The way he plays, knees bent, he pounds his legs, gets in on the forecheck, great energy every shift. When he does that, he’s one of our best players every night.” [via AtoZ Sports]
The identity of the team. That’s a quote.
We saw several moments this season to back up Subban’s point, including several instances of Smith making the “gritty play,” like this great goal against Montreal.
Here you see Smith not only display the presence of mind to get to the netfront, but he positions his body perfectly to shield two defenders from the puck, allowing him to easily slip the puck past Carey Price for the goal.
That type of aggressive play also helps Smith excel in another part of the game: forcing turnovers. His 2.24 Takeaways/60 minutes was third-best on the team among guys who played at least 20 games (behind only Forsberg and Grimaldi). His penchant for stepping into the play and putting pressure on the puck handler can—every now and then—be a negative aspect of his game. But they also lead to a lot of “stolen chances,” like this goal against Ottawa.
I want you to look at this heat map. Where you see red, more shots come from that area of the ice. Where you see blue, the amount of shots from that part of the ice is below average.
The vast majority of Smith’s chances are coming from the top of the faceoff circles, from the points, or from tough angles close to the net. While we certainly know Smith has a good shot and he’s capable of sniping one in from those angles, let’s face it, those aren’t exactly ideal shots. The biggest blue spot on the ice is the area where Smith SHOULD be getting his best chances: right in front of the net.
And that’s perhaps the biggest frustration about Smith’s game. He shoots the puck almost more than anyone else on the team (only Forsberg registered more shots per 60 minutes). Yet they’re not the best shots. You can see that in his shooting percentage. Nick Bonino, Austin Watson, and Brian Boyle are some of the Preds who had a higher shooting percentage than Smith last season. That may have also compounded chemistry issues with a linemate like Kyle Turris, who’s more comfortable along the wings in an “outside-in” playmaking role.
As we discussed in the “positives” section, he likes to play a physical game. You’d like to see a player with his mindset be able to body his way into more chances in front of the net.
Hey look! The one thing from the playoffs we can discuss without cursing the entire world!
I love everything about this goal. From the dire circumstances surrounding it (it evened the series at one game apiece after the Preds floundered at home in Game 1), to the play itself (it’s that physical play in front of the net we want to see more of), to how hyped he gets in the celebration.
I want more of this...inject this Craig Smith into my veins all day.
So you know how Smith kind of has a reputation for being “streaky?” Well, things like this don’t help...
On January 7th against Toronto, Smith got an assist—which happened to be his seventh point in six games. What happened next? Smith wouldn’t get a single point for almost a full month. His next point would come February fifth in a goal against Arizona... his first point in 11 games.
Granted, the entire team was dealing with injury issues at that point, and—to put it nicely—a lot of people weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders. But to see that kind of streak from the guy who’s supposed to be the finisher on your second scoring line? ...Ooof.
Trending Up or Down?
“Trending Straight” is probably a fair assessment.
At 30 years old and entering his ninth season with the team, we probably know what we’re getting out of Smith. And that’s not a bad thing. He knows his role on the team and he plays it well. He’s reliable for 20 goals and somewhere around 35-45 points a year. It may not seem like a lot, but when you already have the JoFA line, Duchene, and Josi in the fold, that’s plenty for a depth scorer.
The biggest question mark will be where Smith lands on the depth chart, and that brings us back to the aforementioned “what’s his role” debate. Will he stay on one of the top two lines, where he may benefit from playing with a center like Duchene? Or will he be moved to an “energy line” with a center like Colton Sissons, who may better complement his overall style of play?
Final Grade: B
Still passing. Not passing with flying colors. But he does exactly what the Preds need him to.
Your turn to weigh in.
What grade would you give Craig Smith’s 2018-2019 season?
This poll is closed