The Nashville Predators got production from all over the ice in the 2016 season with injuries striking early and often last season. With James Neal, P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Miikka Salomaki, and Colin Wilson all seeing time on the shelf last season, Nashville had to seek production from players they’re not used to relying on. Craig Smith, unfortunately, never stepped up to the plate. After a season that saw more downs than ups for Smith, is it officially now or never for the veteran winger?
Craig Smith Must Produce in 2017-18
The Nasvhille Predators drafted Smith, 28, in the 2009 NHL Entry Level Draft in the fourth round, 98th overall. Smith spent two years at the University of Wisconsin and made a huge impact putting up eight goals and 25 assists assists as a Freshman, and 19 goals and 24 assists as a Sophomore. After two solid years playing college hockey, Smith went to the NHL.
Smith made his NHL debut in the 2011-2012 season for the Nashville Predators. Smith saw a good amount of success early on. Putting up 14 goals and 22 assists, the young winger showed a lot of promise in 72 games played. Smith racked up the 3rd highest time-on-ice totals for all right wingers for Nashville that season with 1021:30, trailing only Patric Hornqvist and Martin Erat. With a Corsi-For percentage of 47.25%, regular season at five on five, Smith was a reliable option for the Predators. In the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season, Smith saw a slight dip in production, playing in 44 games and putting up eight goals and 12 assists. Smith continued to be a big minutes-eater for Nashville at right wing with 609:42 time-on-ice, trailing only Martin Erat at the position.
In the 2013-2014 season Smith began to come into his own. Smith put up career highs in goals with 24, and assists with 28 in 79 games played. Smith also improved his Corsi-For percentage to 50.44% at five on five, further solidifying his reliability. He played a big role on a team that had improved from 13th in the Western Conference the previous season, to a team that missed out on the playoffs by just three points. Things were looking up for not only the Nashville Predators, but also for the young winger who had just had a career year.
After Smith’s 2013-14 season, things continued to trend upward in the 2014-2015 season. He continued to produce steadily for Nashville, putting up 23 goals and 21 assists playing in all 82 games. Smith also put up his career high in regular season Corsi-For percentage at five on five: 55.59%. Nashville finished the season third in the Western Conference before being bounced by the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the NHL Playoffs. Smith held his own in the series, putting up five points in six games played for Nashville. Due to another steady campaign, Smith got his deserved pay day. He came to terms with Nashville on a 5 year, $21 million contract. The future looked bright for Smith.
Dip in Production
Coming off a big summer pay-day for Smith, he looked to continue his production for the 2015-2016 season for a Nashville team that felt primed to make a run deep into the playoffs. Smith scored 21 goals and put up 16 assists in 82 games played, his least amount of production since the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season. While his production took a dip, he topped his previous Corsi-for percentage at five on five career high with a score of 56.59%. Smith continued to be reliable, but that stopped come playoff time.
Making the move to center for Nashville in the playoffs, Smith’s scoring production took a huge hit. Smith only tallied two points in 11 games played for Nashville before they were bounced in Game 7 of the second round by the San Jose Sharks. Even with the abysmal scoring totals, Smith continued to show his reliability putting up a Corsi-For percentage at five on five in the playoffs of 51.87%. Smith did miss some time in the playoffs, battling a lower-body injury and it seemed to hurt Nashville. This showed in the playoffs, with Nashville going 0-4 in games that Smith missed.
After a campaign in 2015-2016 that saw a slight dip in scoring production, Smith came into the 2016-2017 season looking to bring back his scoring spark. Early into the season, Smith saw a line demotion that didn’t help his chances. After playing much of the previous season with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg, he was moved down to a line that saw him alongside Mike Ribeiro and Viktor Arvidsson. Meanwhile, Kevin Fiala took over the top-line spot that Smith once held. After Smith continued to struggle to score, and Arvidsson became a goal scoring machine with an eventual promotion to the top line, Smith’s production continued to be stagnant.
Putting up just 12 goals and 17 assists in 78 games played on the season, Smith never truly seemed to look like his old self. Smith was a healthy scratch against the Vancouver Canucks in early January after a tough stretch with minimal production, netting just one goal in a 24 game stretch. After continuing to struggle to score points, Smith once again saw himself a healthy scratch in a March contest against the Carolina Hurricanes. Before that game, Smith had netted just four goals in his previous 59 contests. Even though it was a disappointing season for Smith, he was able to finish on a high note, putting up 12 points in his last 11 contests heading into the playoffs.
After finishing the season hot, Smith looked to keep his production up in the playoffs. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Smith only appeared in 10 games in the 2016-2017 playoffs after suffering a lower-body injury in the Game 3 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks. Smith was able to come back and play in seven more games in the playoffs, but put up minimal production only producing three points in those 10 games played.
After a rough 2016-2017 season for Smith, the time is now for him to bring back the production he once was looked upon for. With the departure of James Neal in the expansion draft, and Colin Wilson heading to the Colorado Avalanche this off-season, there’s a need for scoring. Smith could be the answer. Factor in the addition of Scott Hartnell, and the third line could be a comfortable spot for Smith to carve a role out alongside Hartnell and Calle Jarnkrok.
With young talent on the rise, Smith’s window to bring back his scoring touch looks to be closing. If Smith continues to struggle, Nashville could look to replace him with a younger player. Smith’s main goal for the upcoming season is to find comfort on a line without Johansen and Forsberg. He’s struggled to do so since the demotion off the top-line early last season. If Smith does find that comfort, it could be a big year for the 28 year old American. If he doesn’t, it could mean Nashville pursuing other options. It’s now or never for Smith.
Embed from Getty Images