Givani Smith who the Red Wings selected 46th overall in the 2016 NHL Draft, has run into a problem that will give him a chance at cracking Detroit’s roster on opening night. The problem that he has run into is that he is not eligible to play in the AHL however Detroit management, along with myself, feels he is ready to make the jump to professional hockey.
The only options he has is to return to the OHL for one more season or play in the NHL. Detroit is expected to have one final roster space that a skater not currently on the roster will compete for. Due to this dilemma, Smith will be in the mix along with other competition from Grand Rapids, such as Tyler Bertuzzi, Evgeny Svechnikov, Ben Street, and Martin Frk.
What has he done so far?
Last season Smith put up 26 goals and 18 assists for 44 points in 64 games for the Guelph Storm. He was also a minus-9 and took 139 penalty minutes. When looking at his prior season he has almost identical offensive stats, putting up just 2 more points in 1 less game played in 2016-17. What has been his biggest improvement was in the defensive end. He went from a minus-27 to a minus-9, and while a minus-9 is not spectacular by any means, it is still much better then his 2015-16 season. Not to mention the Guelph Storm are not one of the top teams in the OHL, so that had some impact on his stats.
Smith has also improved his skating, which was a concern of his following his draft year. He’s played at a higher pace, and this leads me to believe he is capable of being ready for professional hockey.
The improvements Givani has shown leave no doubt he is ready for the AHL, but the question is, is he ready for the NHL and is he more deserving than someone such as Tyler Bertuzzi? If you ask me, I do not think he is more deserving than Tyler Bertuzzi to make the NHL, however I feel he could be an effective player in the NHL next season. This is due to his style as well as his character.
Givani has one of the best compete levels I’ve ever seen for someone his age. He leaves everything he’s got out on the ice every shift. He’s not afraid to be creative and make plays himself, and he certainly won’t back down, even to the biggest and scariest opponents. These are all things that go into being a good player in the NHL.
Most impressive to me is that he’s a leader and he wants to be the guy that others look to. At the 2017 Red Wings prospects development camp Smith said “I kind of feel like an older guy here but it’s only my second camp.” Smith was not shy to show that he feels like a leader and it was his responsibility to make all the new draft picks feel more comfortable.
That is a great attitude to have at age 19, to have leadership qualities will earn him respect, and he plays with great confidence on the ice. Feeling respected by his teammates will show on the ice. It will just make him compete harder to establish the kind of player he is as well.
While I feel Smith is capable of playing in the NHL next season, what matters is what Detroit thinks of him. The Red Wings are known to be very patient when it comes to developing prospects. While Detroit does think he is ready to be in the AHL, the AHL is different from the NHL. If they do not think he is ready for the NHL, they will not rush his development.
In the end I would expect Givani to be back in the OHL for one more season. While things could change at camp, I feel they think he is only ready for the AHL and not the NHL, they will not rush his development.