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2013-14 Preview: Craig Smith

Ed. Note: From August 21st through September 16th, we will be providing player previews for each player for the 2013-14 season. In no specific order, today we continue with Craig Smith…

Craig Smith’s last 3 seasons
Tm/Lg GP G A PTS P/M PPP TOI
 2010-11 WCHA 41 19 24 43 -3 8 N/A
 2011-12 NSH 72 14 22 36 -9 13 14:11
 2012-13 MIL 4 1 4 5 +1 2 N/A
 2012-13 NSH 44 4 8 12 -11 7 13:51

2012-13 in review:
The 2012-13 season was a season to forget for Craig Smith. In a season where he was expected to take a step forward in his production, Smith only posted 12 points (4g, 8a) in 44 games played with the Predators, three points of which came in the final three games of the season. Smith struggled with playing consistently at a high level and could never find a way to stick as a top-six forward on Nashville’s roster even when the team was dismantled by injuries. He was even sent to Milwaukee for a conditioning assignment in March.

It’s fairly common to see athletes in any major professional sport go through what is commonly referred to as the “sophomore slump”, but the fact of the matter is that Smith has not been the same player since very early into the 2011-12 season. It’s common to see young players go through consistency issues. Colin Wilson didn’t play consistently well for the Predators until just last season. Smith’s struggle with consistently being productive in 2012-13 wasn’t necessarily shocking given the fact he’s a young player, but the Predators needed more from him.

After all, they were dead last in the NHL in goal scoring.

Burning question for 2013-14: Is this a make-or-break season for Smith?
Despite his lackluster season in 2012-13, Smith went to the World Championships for Team USA and absolutely lit it up. He finished the tournament with 14 points in 10 games, which is two more points than he had all season in Nashville. There’s no question that the ability is there. Smith has dazzling speed, decent hands and a really good wrist shot. One would think that combination is going to lead to some good offensive numbers at some point.

The motivation for Smith to have a good season is there. Due to the current roster the Predators have, Smith isn’t going to play if he’s not playing well. There are simply just too many NHL caliber forwards currently on the roster to leave players in the lineup who aren’t being productive in their roles. Added to that is the fact that Smith was invited to Team USA’s Olympic Orientation Camp. He’s going to want to have a strong start to the season to present a good case to David Poile that he should make Team USA for the 2014 Winter Olympics. But what happens if Smith continues to struggle with his consistency and production? Is 2013-14 a make-or-break season for him with the Predators? It’s certainly possible that it is, especially given the fact that young players like Filip Forsberg, Taylor Beck and Austin Watson are all going to be pushing hard for NHL spots.

Smith is only in his third year and has the physical tools to be a very productive NHL player. He’s going to have to be used in a role that best suits his development. In other words, playing on the fourth line probably isn’t going to do him much good. He’s going to have to prove to the coaching staff that he deserves a top-six role.

Smith is a wild card this season for the Predators. If he plays up to his potential, suddenly the Predators become a team with a considerable scoring threat on multiple lines. If he doesn’t play up to his potential, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Predators will have to explore other options due to a numbers game.

 
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