#15 Craig Smith: Player Analysis

For nearly a decade, the man who has served as a major vertebrae in the Predators' backbone conversely possesses one of the most monotonous names in the English language. Throughout Craig Smith's nine-year NHL career, he has continuously proven to be Preds' trusty steed when things start heading in the wrong direction.


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The 30-year old Smith is actually having a comparatively down performance in 2019-20. Granted, he and everyone else are still owed 13 games to close out the regular season, but Smith has thus far tallied the second-lowest point total of his career (among seasons in which he's played more than 50 games). His 31 points this season just barely surpass his 29-point 2016-17 campaign. Smith is, however, maintaining the second-best on-ice rating of his career this year, coming in at an impressive +18.


Credit: Hockey Reference

The Preds have been particularly disappointing this season, but one of the team's saving graces has been the success of the All-American Craig Smith-Nick Bonino-Rocco Grimaldi line. Smith and Bonino are statistically hand-in-hand with each other, and they're all collectively performing better than most of their top-billed teammates.




As of this summer (or whenever the 2019-20 season concludes), Smith will be an unrestricted free agent. Given his steadfastness and the number's he's put up this season, it would be in David Poile's best interest to re-sign him before he goes elsewhere- especially since Poile missed the trade window wherein he could have exchanged his secret weapon for other assets.



OFFENSE


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Smith and Bonino are tied at 18 goals for the second-most on the team; in addition, Smith, at +18, and Bonino, at +17, are the second and third-highest ranked on the team, respectively. Part of the reason why Smith's offensive stats are lower than usual in 2019-20 is because of the strikingly similar load both he and Bonino have been carrying for the Preds. Case in point- Smith's on-ice shooting percentage (oiSH%) is the highest it's ever been in his career, at an 11.7 percent conversion rate. Smith also leads the Preds in Fenwick-For percentage (FF%) with a 56.3 percent rate- meaning the Preds are controlling the puck most often when Smith is on the ice.


Credit: Hockey Reference

With 184 shots on goal this season, Smith is behind just Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg for the third-most on the team. Smith's shining moment this season came against the Islanders on Feb. 13, when he scored a hat trick against his former coach, Barry Trotz.




DEFENSE


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Smith's high +18 rating and FF%, along with being a testament to his offensive production, also demonstrates his ability to limit his opponent's offense. Together, Smith, Bonino, and Grimaldi are stifling the opposition more than any other Preds' line. Even after averaging the each of the "American" line's FF% ratings, their 54.1 percent possession rate still ranks fifth on the team. There is no other one Preds' forward line that boasts that level of puck protection.


Credit: Hockey Reference

As a forward, Smith's defensive abilities are never going to be the emphasis of his game, but he and his linemates sure are covering their bases on the backcheck.



GENERAL EFFECTIVENESS AND TEAM INFLUENCE


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Smith's roots are as Midwestern-American as his name suggests. Born and raised in Madison, Wis. and an alumnus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Smith's high school and college are a mere 12 minutes apart. Smith played two seasons as a Badger with the likes of Ryan McDonagh, Justin Schultz, and Jake Gardiner. Smith was one of just three collegiate players to be selected for the United States' 2011 IIHF World Championship roster.


Credit: USA Hockey

In 2014, Smith got a preview of life under Peter Laviolette before any of his other teammates, as Laviolette had been hired as head coach of the Predators just days before the start of the 2014 IIHF World Championship. This was the same tournament where Smith's teammate, Pekka Rinne, was named MVP.


Another product of the Preds' system, "Smitty" has been a Nashville treasure since his 36-point rookie season in 2011-12. Not to mention, his mini golden retriever- Tula- is very, very cute.

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