Detroit — Givani Smith is right in the mix, and that’s fine with him.
Whether Smith is fighting for a spot on the Red Wings’ roster, or standing up for a teammate and using his physical prowess, Smith enjoys being in the thick of battles.
And just like the last season or two, Smith is in another one in an attempt to make the Wings’ team.
“I’d rather be fighting than not fighting,” Smith said. “It’s good mentally and puts me in a good spot and makes me prepare and work for the things I want to achieve.”
Smith, 24, is a bruising 6-foot-2, 215-pound wing who has now spent parts of three seasons with the Wings, including being on the roster for all of last season, though limited to 46 games after suffering a concussion during a fight with Philadelphia’s Zack MacEwen in March.
Smith had four goals and three assists for seven points, with a minus-six rating and 108 penalty minutes.
“It took a little while (to recover from the concussion); you don’t want to rush a head injury,” Smith said. “I’ve seen guys that go off and get CTE or worse when they’re older. I wanted to take my time and focus.
“I feel pretty good. There’s a lot of guys here, obviously, and everyone knows that. The biggest thing I can focus on is really just playing my game and staying true to myself, and to everything that I have put in this summer.”
Smith isn’t waiver-exempt anymore, so if he’d be put on waivers, there’s a chance another team would claim him. But given his size and ability to be an enforcer, not to mention a good net-front presence, Smith has attributes the Wings want and need.
Coach Derek Lalonde has spoken with Smith during the summer, and camp, and expressed a desire for Smith to keep his game simple.
“We need him to buy into what everyone else is doing, less risk and keep things simple, control the things he can control and just manage his game,” Lalonde said. “We don’t need trying to force offense. We just need him to be simple and hard to play against and stick up for teammates.
“The last game you saw in Chicago, he did all that and that’s why he had a positive game.”
Physical play has slowly been phased out in the NHL over the years, but Lalonde feels there’s still a need for a physical presence on the roster.
“It’s a reality of the game,” Lalonde said. “Obviously, it’s less and less, but ‘tough’ can be a little bit different now. Obviously, there’s guys in this league that will fight for teammates. Sometimes, just sticking up for a teammate is important.”
Lalonde remembered an incident during this exhibition season when defenseman Moritz Seider was targeted by a team.
“Mo got run from behind the first shift and Dylan (Larkin) went and stood up for him,” Lalonde said. “Obviously, Dylan didn’t have to fight the guy, but it was important for our bench he did that.”
Smith wants to be that teammate who will go out and protect people.
“For sure, that’s who I am, just play hard and that’s all I can do,” Smith said. “I bring that hard game and I’m a physical player. I stand up for my teammates and protect my guys and I compete.”
Like so many other Wings have remarked, with Lalonde and a new coaching staff present, Smith feels there’s a bit of a fresh start this camp.
“I was really excited for the opportunity,” Smith said. “It’s a chance to get in and play good and, hopefully, work my way up to more minutes and games. A lot of opportunity.
“I want to win; we all want to win. Coach will play the best guys to win hockey games. I just have to keep working hard and keep playing my game and believe in the system.”
Smith is excited about the Wings’ roster and talent and depth that’s been brought in.
“There’s a lot of competition, but good,” Smith said. “The best guys will work the hardest and come out on top. It’s good to be around and good to see a lot of young guys here. It’s exciting.
“I guess anyone can predict you to do anything, so it depends on how you see yourself and I always see myself as a hard-working person with strong goals, and I attain my goals. So that being said, it’s how hard you want to work.”