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By the Numbers Prospects: Givani Smith

After a rough start, first-year pro makes strides in second half of his rookie campaign

by Arthur J. Regner @ArthurJRegner / DetroitRedWings.com

By the Numbers will highlight the on-ice accomplishments in the 2018-19 season for the Detroit Red Wings' prospects. Twice a week during the offseason, By the Numbers will profile a different player in the system, focusing on his statistical highs. This week we focus on left wing Givani Smith.

There is a lot to like about the potential of Givani Smith.

At 6-foot-2, 206 pounds, Smith has the mettle, size and offensive ability to develop into an effective power forward at the NHL level.

Drafted by the Red Wings in the second round, 46th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Smith played for three different teams in the OHL, the Barrie Colts, Guelph Storm and the Kitchener Rangers, before turning pro with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins last season.

In juniors, Smith accumulated points and penalties. He led the OHL in penalty minutes in back-to-back seasons, 146 in 2015-16 and 139 in 2016-17, while registering 86 points (49-37-86) in 129 games in that span.

Smith was dealt from Guelph to Kitchener in January 2018 and in 27 games for the Rangers, he registered 19 points (9-10-19) and was plus-6, but it was in his only appearance in the OHL playoffs with the Rangers where his skill and grit came to the forefront.

He notched 18 points (11-7-18) in 18 playoff games and was assessed 22 penalty minutes.

Detroit officials were encouraged by Smith's play and let him know they expected to see the same player in Grand Rapids that they witnessed for Kitchener in the OHL playoffs.

It was a clear message for Smith that before you receive an opportunity with the Red Wings, we want you to be a dominant two-way player at the AHL level.

But Smith's adjustment on and off the ice to professional hockey was difficult last season. He was out on his own for the first time in his life and he had to earn the trust of the Griffins coaching staff to play in key situations.

Essentially, Smith needed to learn how to become responsible defensively, which is not uncommon for most players transitioning to the pro game.

After an extremely slow start in Grand Rapids, his season began to turn around after he spent a few days at home in Toronto during the AHL's Christmas break.

From late December on, Smith's two-way play improved so much that he was named the Griffins' Player of the Month for March.

With a year of pro hockey behind him, Smith, who has always maintained his path to Detroit is a marathon and not a sprint, appears poised to become a major contributor for the Griffins next season and perhaps could even earn some playing time with the Red Wings.

6 - His goal total for Grand Rapids, which ranked second among rookies. Filip Zadina led Griffins rookies in goals with 16.

7 - Smith's seven assists was third most by a Grand Rapids rookie. Zadina's 19 assists topped the Griffins rookies, with Dennis Cholowski's 12 assists second.

13 - Points Smith accumulated. Zadina led all rookies in scoring with 35 points.

+2 - Smith was the only rookie on the Griffins to be a plus player.

86 - Never a player to shy away from the physical game, his 86 penalty minutes led all Grand Rapids rookies and was second highest on the team to Dylan McIlrath's 98 minutes.

4 - Playoff games he played for Grand Rapids. Smith was suspended for one playoff game for an illegal check to the head of an opponent. He missed Game 4 of the Griffins' five-game series against the Chicago Wolves. Grand Rapids lost Game 4, 5-2, and was eliminated in five games by Chicago in the AHL playoffs.

2 - In his four playoff games, Smith didn't score a goal, but he did dole out two assists, which tied him for the most playoff assists by a rookie with Cholowski. Along with Cholowski, his two points were the second most by a Griffins rookie. Zadina led Grand Rapids rookies in playoff scoring with three points (2-1-3).

+1 - Smith and Cholowski were the only rookies to be plus playoff players at plus-1.

9 - He was assessed nine penalty minutes which was tops among Grand Rapids rookies during the playoffs and ranked fifth most on the Griffins. Filip Hronek was Grand Rapids' playoff penalty minutes leader with 28, followed by Matt Puempel, Martin Frk and Wade Megan, who each were whistled for 16 total penalty minutes.

Quotable: "Givani's a guy that put in a ton of work in the offseason and I think anybody that followed us early in the year at the prospect tournament and then training camp saw that. He had a fabulous prospect tournament. I believe he played in two or three exhibition games and was very good, to the point where he stood out to Jeff Blashill, who would have not seen him play much in junior at all, just got looks at him in training camp. A guy that puts in a ton of work in the offseason, lived in Detroit, trained with some pros down here, comes into the prospect tournament, has a great prospect tournament, four games, goes into the NHL exhibition season, starts to turn some heads. Lots of positives to start the year for Givani and because of that, really earned an opportunity. I know in his exit meeting up here, Ben Simon was comfortable saying you're going to be in the top six, you're going to be a guy that's on specialty teams, most likely second power play. It was great for him as a beginning point in Grand Rapids. Now he got down there and he had some challenges and some struggles adjusting to the pro game. The speed of the game at times, his ability to hold onto the puck and do some of the things that he had done in junior, I think overwhelmed him at times. It's not anything new. I think a young, 20-year-old player down there who has a certain level of success in junior playing against, really, boys, or young men, now he's playing against men. So at times he got frustrated. Then of course the team didn't have a ton of success early on and I think some young players are easy victims of circumstance in that regard. They're easy guys to move out of the lineup so I think his opportunity dipped a little bit at the beginning of the year because of his lack of consistency and his lack of ability to replicate what he had done up here. Now, to his credit, I'd say probably really from Christmas on, and I'll say Shawn (Horcoff) and Dan (Cleary) certainly deserve a lot of credit with their development. Ben Simon deserves a lot of credit with how he coached him. But one guy in particular, Derek Hulak, who is an old pro that we signed to a PTO, happened to play with Givani's brother in the Texas system, was a fabulous influence on him, mentored him, kind of took him under his wing, and Givani would be the first to tell you how much credit he gives to Derek. So really from December on, Givani started on an upward swing and was one of our best players in the playoffs. He loves playoff hockey, which is a great sign for the Red Wings. He showed up and played really well in all of those games against Chicago. He was a big, physical force, he was confident with the puck, holding onto the puck. If anybody were to have seen just his prospect tournament and his playoffs, they'd think this guy's knocking on the NHL door. He did have a full season in between there that lacked some consistency at times and lacked an ability to play to his strengths, but the positive is he ended on a really positive note. He's going to be back in the gym in Detroit for much of the summer, so he's a good prospect and someone what we're really high on." - Ryan Martin, Red Wings assistant general manager and Grand Rapids Griffins general manager

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