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 fifth entry of 'Powering Forward.'
Powering Forward - Entry 5
by Givani Smith
Hi everybody, before I begin my blog, I want to thank all the fans for reading my blogs and following me as a hockey player. I really appreciate that, so thank you. It was quite a year for me turning pro. It opened my eyes as to what it takes to become an NHL player.
Coming out of junior and going pro, it starts in practice. That's where guys get their job opportunities because they're good in practice, they do the little things like showing up early, working out before and after practice, just being that guy that shows he's putting a lot of work in. That's what I was doing and it took me a little while to understand, but the right mentors helped me find the right path, allowing me to feel more comfortable and fit right in and be the player I know I am. I'm especially appreciative of Colin Campbell and Derek Hulak as those guys took me under their wing so I could learn from them. They're fifth-year guys and they've experienced a lot in the league. I picked their brains at times so they could teach me some things.
I was getting to the stage (in junior) where I was really feeling confident. For me, I was a really big player in junior so I would just show up to the rink and teams would be pretty intimidated to play against me because I was a big guy and physical. I was a power forward and I'd take the puck a lot and carry it to the net and outmuscle the kids and guys in that league (OHL). It's a 16-20 league and I was a lot stronger. Coming to pro hockey, I had to find a different way to adapt my skills and my game. Everyone in pro hockey is so strong, everyone is so big and for me to be with that pool of guys, I had to figure out different ways to use my skill and also my brain, my hockey IQ, to allow me to play better and that's how things translated for me during the playoffs. I felt I was the player that could really help the team win when the playoffs began in Grand Rapids. It was a fun series against Chicago. Unfortunately, we didn't get the win in Game 5 but for my first pro playoff series it was great to be a part of.
But it wasn't easy. There were those days when I was down on myself. I was asking myself, 'What's going on here? Is it me, am I not ready for pro?' But at the same time, I knew I had confidence in myself and what I can do and my family's confidence in me let me understand it was just me freeing up to that moment where, 'Ok, I know I'm a good hockey player, I have to be just really good at doing something else and be the best at doing that, adapt to the game, adapt to how the style of play is in the AHL.' That made me feel more comfortable out there and I started playing better.
I had a slow start to my pro career, which I've written about in previous blogs, but sometimes improving on the ice begins with a positive experience off the ice and that is exactly what happened to me.
Going home for Christmas was the best thing that happened to me last season. I was able to recoup with my brothers, my dad and my family. I was able to let go of the hockey. I know I've been playing hockey for all my life, but I have also been with my family for my whole entire life and we always do things outside of hockey. Just having fun times, spending time with each other and getting that feeling again, feeling that love my brothers give me, that my mom and dad give me, to come back and play hockey, it put the worries away in my head. I was just playing the game I like to do. I love to play hockey. I play the game of hockey because I love it. Christmas brought that feel back, it gave me some more confidence.
After being with my family, with them allowing me to be myself and to come back to the hockey side, to the hockey world I could be myself because I know I'm loved by my family, they love me for who I am. When you're playing hockey, you don't worry about anything else, just hockey. We're just doing it, we practice 24-7. When you do things in practice and in games it becomes repetition, you get into a groove where you're out there relaxed, you're calm and you're playing your best. After Christmas I just stopped worrying about everything from the coaching staff to thinking about, 'where am I going to be next year or who could be watching me play today?' I just worried about playing my game and that's what put me in the groove. I just started playing the game I know how to play. The game I've been playing my whole life and it all fell together.
I like to win, I want to win. Winning in the playoffs is the ultimate. Fun things happen in the playoffs, that's when a team really comes together and the hockey is phenomenal. There's no better time to bring up the camaraderie of the team and the whole coaching staff. Playoffs are a whole different league, it's a different season, it's a battle. I'm a big power forward, I like to play physical and being physical, it wears out the opponents and the way I can play I like to get into guys' faces a lot. I don't like to play shy or play perimeter. I'm a big guy and I can protect my teammates and stuff. In the playoffs there's a whole lot of that going on, it definitely does help me. As I've already said, it was disappointing we couldn't get by Chicago in the first round, but nothing compares to playoff hockey.
Once the season ended, all players have an exit interview with the team. My exit interview was good. It was actually two separate interviews, one with the Griffins coaching staff and the other was with management. They were proud of what I went through in the season and how I ended in the playoffs. They told me to make sure I have a really good summer and have a phenomenal camp because that's when it starts - in September.
Ryan Martin, Shawn Horcoff and Steve Yzerman were part of the management meeting. Steve mentioned when he was in Tampa Bay he saw me over my draft year. I was surprised. I've always had a lot of respect for Steve Yzerman, he's a hockey legend, especially in Detroit. I have a lot of respect so it was pretty nice, but also he's working for the team now, he's the boss, so you've got to impress him.
I will be in Detroit the rest of the summer working out and skating four to five times a week. I will be training in Detroit. It's time for me to focus on my training, my sleeping, my body and focus on getting better every single day. My summers are huge, it's what pays off for me. I will get better if I will take the time to focus on hockey. I've been training during my summers since I was 16, it's what I'm used to.
There is a lot of work to be done and I am eager to get back to work. I really want to concentrate on creating more opportunities and scoring goals from everywhere in the O-zone, in tight spaces, work on the scoring ability. If I can improve in those areas, I am confident next season at some point you'll see me in a Red Wings uniform.
In 64 games this season with the Griffins, Smith finished with six goals, seven assists, was a plus-2 and was assessed 86 penalty minutes. In four playoff games he had two assists, was a plus-1 with nine penalty minutes.