Givani Smith just wrapped his first pro season with the Grand Rapids Griffins to mixed reviews. He was a big boy in junior, one of the toughest guys in the OHL, but when you’re suddenly playing with men in a professional league, you can feel pretty small at 21-years-old.
When the Red Wings drafted him at 46th overall in 2016, he wasn’t considered a reach and he wasn’t considered a steal. He was projected to be a mid- or bottom-6 winger who could play a grind-it-out style of hockey, getting under opponents’ skin and sticking up for his teammates. That’s the kind of player he was in junior and now the Red Wings are hoping to see a little more speed and skill develop out of the youngster.
His first year in Grand Rapids didn’t blow anyone away, which is likely why he’s fallen so far in our prospect rankings. Still, at #23, Givani Smith could prove us all wrong.
Drafted: 2016, round 2, 46 overall
Weight: 205 lbs
Birthday: February 27, 1998
Latest Team: Grand Rapids Griffins
Smith may not have the international accolades that some of his colleagues do, but he had a long and fruitful career in the OHL, playing first for the Barrie Colts, then the Guelph Storm, and finally for the Kitchener Rangers.
He took some time to get going, as most kids do at the start of their career, putting up seven goals and 19 points in the 61 games of his rookie season. From there, though, he put up two 40+ point seasons before wrapping up with 30 points and a long playoff run in 2017-18. Perhaps the most encouraging part of his junior career was that long playoff run, as he went a point-per-game, recording 11 goals and 18 points through the 18 games.
Fast forward to last season and Smith scored six goals and 13 points through the 64 games of his AHL debut season. He was second on the team in penalty minutes, behind only the enforcer Dylan McIlrath, and he was a +2 on the season. He added two assists through the team’s four playoff games.
The knock on Smith was always his skating, but he’s made some great strides (heh) since his draft year. He’s not the fastest player and he doesn’t have much of a nose for the net, but Smith’s strengths are far more defensive than they are offensive. He’s a grinder. Combine that with a higher skill level and better skating, and he could be a great 21st century grinder.
There’s also no talking around Smith’s toughness. When it comes to fighting, he’s always ready to drop them. In his two full seasons with the Guelph Storm, he not only lead his team, but the entire OHL in penalty minutes and by a very wide margin.
There’s no doubt about it – Smith likes to ruffle feathers and he has no problem sitting it out in the penalty box. This could be a detriment to a team, but it’s also comforting knowing you’ve got a fearless teammate who will do whatever it takes.
Smith is a tough one to predict because players with his style are still highly desired by teams, even if their skill level isn’t the highest.
I think Smith will get another full season under his belt in Grand Rapids before he even sniffs time in Detroit. He’ll need to improve his offensive numbers, which is very do-able for a sophomore in the league who is working on the weaker parts of his game.
At best, I see Smith as a mid-6 winger with lukewarm production. At worst, he’s a career AHLer. Most likely, he’ll be a fringe NHL-er who plays a handful of games every year when injuries occur. Where he nets out will start to take shape this year. It’s going to be the biggest of his career so far.