For any player, scoring your first NHL goal has to be a special moment. The jubilant inner feeling is one that only the sport’s elite of the elite will ever get to experience. The rush of emotions can make for great celebrations. Dylan Larkin’s first came in front of a roaring Joe Louis Arena crowd, while Filip Zadina shared a great big bear hug with fellow countrymen Filip Hronek.
For rookie winger Givani Smith, that joyful, once in a lifetime moment has yet to come. And you gotta feel for the kid.
Monday afternoon, Smith resisted his second NHL goal. But similar to the first goal he scored earlier in the week, the Red Wings found themselves in the late stretches of a lopsided loss. Celebrating under those circumstances comes across as inappropriate, not that many players feel the urge to, either.
And so, Smith continues to wait for his big moment. But if he keeps playing the way he is, the wait won’t last long. In 14 games for the Red Wings, the OHL product has scored two goals and three points. Of course, the stat sheet isn’t the best place of assessment for an inexperienced player such as Smith. Over the course of those 14 games, it is quite clear he has kept improving. From a developmental sense, that is key news.
Go back a year ago and Smith was largely an overlooked prospect in the Detroit system. Scouts pointed towards Smith’s skating as the axe to his NHL hopes. At 6’2” 205, his stride and first step was too heavy to keep up and make an impact at the professional level. That’s why his transition to the AHL took some time. In 64 games for the Griffins last season, the big man posted just six goals and 13 points.
Fast forward to today and skating is still certainly not his strong suit. But playing in that power forward, net-front presence kind of role has allowed him to stay in and around the puck. Smith thrives in the corners and near the net. He plays with hard skill to overpower his opponents in tight spaces, which was considered the attribute that made him a second round draft pick in 2016.
It’s in those dirty areas where Smith’s impact is being felt.
— Here's Your Replay (@HeresYourReplay) January 15, 2020
This is the angle. I think it pretty clearly hits Smith's stick and redirects. Could be wrong, but I think this goal will be assigned to Givani Smith. pic.twitter.com/mAicMq1Wkv
— Nick (@nickseguin19) January 18, 2020
For the Red Wings, his progression is one of the few success stories that has come through the organization this season. As bodies start to be moved out, one has to think Smith will have the inside track to stick on the roster. I’m not so sure the same thing could have been said back in October.
His past few stints feel eerily similar to Tyler Bertuzzi’s early run with the Red Wings a few years ago. Bertuzzi’s talent was clear, but a lack of attention to detail is what ultimately returned him to Grand Rapids. With more and more experience, Bertuzzi eventually figured it out, and is now a significant piece to the Red Wings rebuild. But before the breakthrough came, he was mainly pegged as a future bottom-6 sandpaper guy.
In the case of Smith, he is facing similar circumstances. That of a guy who plays a style traditionally catered to the bottom-6 of a lineup, but has enough skill underneath to carve out a larger role.
All of that considered, the Red Wings brass is now posed with the question: What does the immediate future hold for Smith? I think it’s fair to say Smith hasn’t set the world on fire since being recalled. With the confidence he’s built up, he can take that back to GR and apply his learnings from the NHL into his play on the ice. At the same rate, staying up with the big club can’t hurt as long as he receives quality playing time.
No doubt, though, by the time the AHL playoffs start, he should be apart of that run (assuming the Griffins qualify for the playoffs).
It will be interesting to see where Smith is at come training camp in September. There is reason to believe he can not only make the team full time, but play in a meaningful top-9, special teams role.