The Detroit Red Wings reupped their toughness factor in re-signing big forward Givani Smith.
Smith speaks softly but carries a big stick and a bigger punch, one of the few on the team who will take an opponent to task for taking liberties with the Wings’ best players. This is his year to prove to the Wings he belongs in their lineup, and that was endorsed with a two-year contract announced Tuesday, a week before the start of camp. Smith, 23, will be a restricted free agent upon the contract’s expiration.
Smith appeared in 16 games with the Wings last season, recording a goal and three assists. His 15 points in 25 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins worked out to an AHL career-best .60 points-per-game average and demonstrated the strides Smith has made in improving his skating and ability to extend plays.
[ Wings at Prospects Tournament: Who’s there, who isn’t and what’s next ]
His best game with the Wings was Feb. 7, when he recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick: He 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 Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad. The Wings won, 4-1.
“It was a great example of what (Smith) 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.”
The goal and assist gave Smith four points in six games. He showed off his fighting skills again in April against the Panthers, dropping the gloves with Ryan Lomberg in the first period.
More: How Detroit Red Wings shape up two weeks from start of training camp
More: Detroit Red Wings’ Steve Yzerman on free-agent additions: ‘Hope it translates to wins’
The fight that had more resonance happened in the third period, when Smith dropped the gloves with Riley Stillman in the opening minute to avenge a hit on Dylan Larkin. When Stars captain Jamie Benn caused a season-ending injury to Larkin in mid-April, shoving his stick into Larkin’s neck, Smith was not in the lineup. No Wings player challenged Benn that game — nor the two times the teams met immediately following the April 20 incident.
Smith (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) is no longer waiver exempt, so he has to be on the roster. The Wings recognized his value at the time of the expansion draft, opting to protect him from the Seattle Kraken. Smith has been with the Wings since 2016, when he was drafted at No. 46. In 37 career NHL games, he has three goals, four assists and 30 penalty minutes.
The Wings start training camp Sept. 23.
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.