If it isn’t already too late in your hockey pool, you should grab Nashville Predators forward Craig Smith from the free-agent pile.
I say free-agent pile because chances are he wasn’t taken in many, if any, hockey pools before the NHL season started. Your agent, of course, landed him for $1 in the Toronto Media Hacks Hockey Pool and young Mr. Smith rewarded my otherwise awful team with four points in the Predators’ first two games. I now only vaguely recall Pierre LeBrun of TSN and ESPN.com whispering his name into my ear when I was frantically trying to fill out my lineup at the end of our player auction.
Anyone who wants him had better strike fast because Smith, 22, is getting a lot of attention now that he and linemates David Legwand and fellow rookie Colin Wilson make up one of the hottest lines in the NHL. The trio ran up 10 points in its first two games.
Smith, a native of Madison, Wis., scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game and then struck for a goal and two assists in his second NHL game in St. Louis, with his proud parents looking on.
Put Smith down as yet another steal in the entry draft for Predators general manager David Poile. This is badly needed good news for Poile, who’s been stewing over the Cody Franson-Matthew Lombardi trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Poile had to dump centre Matthew Lombardi and his contract in the summer to make room in the budget for defenceman Shea Weber’s contract. At the time, it didn’t seem so bad because Lombardi missed almost all of the 2010-11 season due to a concussion and did not look like he would play much this season. Leafs GM Brian Burke’s price for taking Lombardi’s contract was the addition of Franson, a solid NHL defenceman at the age of 24, to the deal. Poile reluctantly agreed.
Now, the irony is that Franson is the Leafs’ extra defenceman and was not in the lineup on opening night while Lombardi was. He got the nod after making unexpectedly quick progress in the last month of the summer. Then Lombardi got two points in his first two games to have Poile grinding his teeth.
But getting four points in two games out of Smith, a fourth-round pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft, should make Poile feel a lot better.
Granted, two games is nowhere near enough to decide if Smith is for real, but those in the know say he’s here to stay.
Legwand described Smith as a natural shooter and Kirk Muller, head coach of the Predators’ American Hockey League farm team, raved about him to the Tennessean newspaper.
“His skating is strong for all levels. He plays with energy and plays with a purpose,” Muller said after Smith scored six goals in two games in a rookie tournament last month. “He finds holes and he has a good release that’s quick enough to capitalize like he did tonight. I liked his effort and smart decisions with the puck.”