Detroit Red Wings must consider a larger role for Givani Smith. Here’s why

Detroit Free Press

While a primary focus for Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman this offseason is to add forwards who can generate offense, there’s another type of forward who warrants consideration.

That the Wings need someone to, as the saying goes, keep the flies off their star players was never more evident than April 20 against  the Dallas Stars. That was the night Jamie Benn pushed his stick into Dylan Larkin’s spine , causing an injury that required hospitalization and a neck brace. There was no penalty on the play and — though the NHL looks at every questionable hit — neither a fine nor a suspension.

There also were no on-ice repercussions from the Wings, even though the teams played again April 22 and 24.

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If the Wings want to be perceived as tougher, they have an internal candidate worth considering in Givani Smith.

Smith has been with the organization since 2016, when he was drafted at No. 46. He turned pro two years later, spending 2018-19 with the Grand Rapids Griffins while scoring six goals and seven assists — and 86 penalty minutes — in 64 games. He made his NHL debut Oct. 25, 2019, and appeared in 21 games (two goals, one assist) in 2019-20 with the Wings, otherwise showing improvement with the Griffins, where he recorded nine goals and 19 assists — and 75 penalty minutes — in 37 games.

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Smith appeared in 16 games with the Wings this season, recording a goal and three assists. His 15 points in 25 games with the Griffins worked out to an AHL career-best .60 points-per-game average and boosted Smith’s confidence in his development.

“I think the biggest improvement from last year to this year is being able to keep plays going and to recognize the areas on the ice where I am with the puck and body positioning, so I’m not taking as many penalties and things like that,” Smith said. “There are a lot of things I improved on mentally, growing as a player. I’ve gotten tougher and stronger. My skating has improved.”

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One of Smith’s finest game with the Wings came Feb. 7, when he recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick. Smith redirected a pass from Bobby Ryan to make it 2-0; sent a shot on net that resulted in a rebound goal for Robby Fabbri, and fought Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad. The Wings won, 4-1, and Smith earned rave reviews from teammates.

“It was a great example of what he brings to the team,” Fabbri said at the time. “He has had a great mentality coming in and doing what is needed. He did a little bit of everything with a hit, a goal and an assist. That’s what we need out of him.”

That was Smith’s seventh game of the season with the Wings and gave him four points in six outings.

Smith fought twice April 1, in another game against the Panthers. The first fight was against Ryan Lomberg in the first period. The one that mattered happened in the opening minute of the third period, when Smith dropped the gloves with Riley Stillman to avenge a hit on Larkin.

Beyond adding accountability, there’s much to like about Smith: He’s 6 foot 2 and 205 pounds and plays like it. He is strong on the puck and wins one-on-one battles and gets to the front of the net. He brings energy.

Another offseason spent working on his skating should help Smith earn a role the Wings need filled.

“I’m very excited, but there are a lot of guys coming in, new people coming in every year,” Smith said. “So I’m excited and nervous and ready to work hard to get that spot, get that job.”

Contact Helene St. James at Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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