Craig Smith has that look in his eyes. Coming off of a season where he was largely ineffective, Smith has looked like a man with something to prove so far in training camp.
Smith had a less-than-stellar season for the Nashville Predators in 2012-13. He posted just 12 points (4g, 8a) in 44 games played, including just one point in the first 15 games of the season. It was a very disappointing sophomore season for Smith, who showed during the first part of his rookie season in 2011-12 that he had the ability to be a dynamic offensive option for the Predators.
His performance for Team USA in the 2013 World Championships, however, was anything but disappointing. Smith posted 14 points in 10 games for the United States and was one of the main reasons they won the bronze medal. That experience was much-needed for Smith.
“It was huge, coming off a year and a season that you don’t want to have. It was tough,” Smith said. “Going into that I had a lot of fun. I was playing with some great players. I got a chance to play on the top line, and we won a medal, too, so that was a pretty cool experience.”
The experience at the World Championships was big for Smith heading into the summer in terms of his preparation for this season, which is an extremely important one for Smith in the development of his career. Confidence is going to be a major part of his success, and he got that swagger and confidence back this summer.
“I think it was just big to get back on board. Get back to playing the way I know how to play. I felt good there, and it just carried through the summer,” Smith said.
Smith’s performance in the World Championships also opened up another opportunity for him. He was one of 48 players invited to Team USA’s Olympic Orientation camp in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The final roster for Team USA won’t be announced until New Year’s Day at the Winter Classic in Michigan.
“It’s one of the coolest USA experiences I’ve ever had,” Smith said. “It was kind of a feather in the cap getting to go to that and see what it’s all about, and we’ll see what happens here in January when they pick the team. I’ve just got to worry about what’s going on here, and that stuff will take care of itself.”
The first three months of this NHL season are going to be critical for Smith. He’s proven that he can be a great player on the international ice surface. He’s got to prove that he can contribute at the NHL level. The physical tools are there. Smith has decent size, fantastic speed, a very quick shot and good hands. It seems as if the biggest battle that Smith will have is the mental side of the game. How will he respond when things don’t go his way?
It certainly seems like Smith is poised to have a good season. He’s got everything to play for, and he seems to be coming into this season with a higher confidence level compared to this past January following the lockout. Smith just has to fight for a roster spot and fight for a role where he can be successful. If he’s able to do that, he could be a huge difference-maker for the Predators offensively.
And, come February, he could also find himself in Sochi.