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Preds Previews: Craig Smith

by Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

If it’s 20 goals you’re looking for, Craig Smith has you covered.

The Predators winger has been counted on to score goals for his club over the past few seasons, and he did so once more in 2015-16, tallying 21 times. It was the third consecutive season Smith has hit the 20-goal mark, one of 34 players League wide to do so each of the last three campaigns. He also did so in the clutch, leading the team and setting a career high in game-winning goals with six.

Consistently a member of Nashville’s top six, Smith ranked third on the team in both goals and shots (199) last season, scoring 14 of his 21 goals on home ice. Smith was at his best when the Preds were stringing wins together during their franchise record 14-game point streak from mid-February through mid-March, posting 10 points in five games from Feb. 27 to March 8.

“Once Craig found his groove, and that line with him and [Mike Ribeiro] and [Filip Forsberg] over a two-month stretch there in February and March really put us back into the playoff hunt,” Preds Assistant Coach Kevin McCarthy said. “He was a big part of that.”

Smith was involved in one of the most bizarre moments of the season, going from disbelief to relief in only a few minutes. On Feb. 22 in Montreal, the Preds and Canadiens were in overtime when Ribeiro fed a pass to a wide-open Smith at the side of the net. Somehow, when Smith one-timed the puck, his stick got in the way and kept the puck from entering the cage for what would’ve been the game-winner. Moments later, Smith redeemed himself when he won the game in a shootout, kicking off a three-game road trip that saw the Preds collect all six points.

Smith would prefer to be scoring goals instead of preventing them, and with the 26-year-old set to enter the prime of his career in the coming years, putting the puck in the net is at the forefront. Smith is scheduled to be in Preds Gold through the 2019-20 season, leaving ample time for at least a few more 20-goal seasons.

“Smitty, he’s one of those guys that’s got that knack for scoring goals, and he’s a guy that we expect a lot from,” McCarthy said. “He’s a guy that, in his own mind, he puts a lot of pressure on himself to be that type of player. When he keeps his game on an even-keel basis, emotionally and mentally, I think that’s when he’s at his best.”

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