Right wing Givani Smith was drafted by the Red Wings in the second round, 46th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. The 6-foot-2, 209-pound Toronto native, is one of four Red Wings prospects writing for our Taking Flight blog series, which chronicles the players' ups and downs as they work their way to becoming Red Wings. Smith currently plays for Detroit's AHL affiliate the Grand Rapids Griffins. Here is his first blog entry, 'Powering Forward.'
Powering Forward - Entry 1
by Givani Smith
Since I started playing hockey as a kid, I have always had a size advantage. So when I began playing junior in the OHL, I was a little bit bigger than most of the 16-year-old guys and 17-year-old guys coming in or some of the 20-year-olds. I guess I kind of got away with playing my game under my own terms a lot and now in pro, professional hockey, I'm noticing there's a lot of big guys here, a lot of thick guys, and they all command their time. There are a lot of stronger men in the AHL. Just playing with them, it's a pretty tough league. Guys are really fighting for jobs, fighting to stay in the lineup and battling to stay in the lineup.
When I came in here, I just thought this would be like another OHL but it's really a tough league and I'm trying to change my game and mold my game to the AHL standards and be that guy that can be a shutdown guy or if you want an offensive play, I can do that as well. But right now, I'm really focusing on my defensive game.
I was relying on my talent and my God-given ability to do what I did in the OHL. If I really wanted to make something happen with my team, I could easily, and Coach would put me out there in that situation. I guess coming here, it's a little different. You're not that guy yet, you have to prove yourself and once you get the opportunity to do that, you start feeling more comfortable. Everything just falls into place.
I've been struggling in the first, I guess, quarter of the season. That's just me trying to find my way in this league. I had talks with Benny (Grand Rapids head coach Ben Simon), trying to establish who I really am and who I want to become in this league, and just building that foundation, make myself become a trusted player and become a guy that Benny feels confident in playing me on the ice. Just small things like that, I just have to get down in my game. Like I said, I want to become a defense-first type of guy and everything else on that path.
This is the first time I'm living by myself so it's just nice to have people to talk to about what I've been going through since I began playing in Grand Rapids. Matt Ford, our captain, and Brad Tapper, one of our assistant coaches, have been there for me as I adapt to becoming a pro. Fordo gets it, he really helps us out. He knows what a struggle it can be. He's seen a lot of guys go through it. Tapper's been really good. He's a really nice guy. He talks to me a lot about everything. He's looking out for me and trying to become that guy that I can just talk to about it, if I'm going through some things.
My communication with the Wings is really good as well. Shawn Horcoff came on staff and Dan Cleary, they've been talking with me a lot, almost every month, sometimes three times a month. I really worked with Horcoff a lot when I was in junior, especially this summer actually. We've spoken a lot this summer, did a lot of things off-ice to try to get me to be a better player. I really got to say that he's helped me a lot so I'm really appreciative of what he's done. And the Red Wings staff has kind of taken me in and kind of really developed me into a player and they're still developing me now.
Being drafted by the Wings was a dream come true. My whole family was there. I probably had about 15 people come with me to Buffalo to the draft. To hear my name get called, especially hearing the call by the Detroit Red Wings, is unbelievable. It's close enough to home, so we can all make family trips to come down to Detroit. Just the history about Detroit I heard when I got drafted. The city, it really fits with my style of play, how the city likes their players and how the fans enjoy the type of hockey that they have, it's a really blue-collar city and that just spoke to me.
I'm feeling better every day. Practices are getting better, my game play is getting better. I'm starting to feel more comfortable out there. I'm starting to feel I'm in the right place now in the defensive zone and transitioning to the offensive zone, just things like that are going to build everything up, build my confidence up, get me going again. By playing good defense, it gets (you) offense. I'm just trying to help the team win by doing the small, little things and I think I'll be in a good position where things are going my way.
Looking back at my season thus far, from going from my preseason games with the Red Wings to Grand Rapids, I guess it was a little bit of a transition, too. It's just different. All the players were together in Detroit, everyone was there so it was kind of, it was really fun getting the chance to play in front of the crowd, play with the Red Wings jersey on, it was really nice. It was almost like you were dreaming. Then normally I would go from preseason to the OHL, so going from preseason to Grand Rapids was like, whoa, this is real. Like, I've got to turn it on now, this is my life.
A life I always wanted.
In 19 games this season with the Griffins, Smith has two assists, is minus-2 and has been assessed 23 penalty minutes.