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 is in his second professional season and currently plays for Detroit's AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins. Here is his seventh entry of 'Powering Forward.'
Powering Forward - Entry 7
by Givani Smith
Hi everybody, it has been a jam-packed couple of months and I am feeling pretty good about my place within the Red Wings organization. This is a big year for me. I knew that going into last year that my first year pro was going to be a correctional year, learning the pro style game, figuring out the pro way. That year's over. This year, my second year, is kind of similar to my second OHL year, which was also a very big year for me. I had to focus on being a key player that the coach can depend on, that teammates can trust and depend on to win hockey games. Be a factor in the win. For me, it does take me time to allow myself to get used to the whole league and everything. Going into this year, I want to get called up to play for the Red Wings or hopefully play next year but right now I'm focused on having my best year I can in the AHL.
But I don't want to jump too far ahead of myself. Based on the last few months, my confidence is pretty high. My mindset coming in to training camp was okay, like I said, I had a developing first professional year and going into that pro year, there were things that I knew that I had to work on and get better at to become an NHL player. And for me to go and spend a year in the American League with Ben Simon's coaching and all the help I was getting from player development, that really gave me confidence to step forward in my development as a player and as a person. Going into camp, my mindset was just to show up in the best shape I can with the right, positive attitude and just go to camp and show the new management what I could do, what I can provide for the team, how to help the team win and just play my game.
Confidence is a huge thing. Especially as a hockey player, confidence is everything. I was told confidence is earned, you can't just wake up and expect everything to be going your way and feeling good. Confidence, it's a tricky thing. It's a tough skill to learn and once you learn that skill, it goes a long way. Heading into training camp, I was feeling confident after we won the prospects tournament, but I also think because I've been around for a few years now I felt part of the Red Wings team. It just felt normal. It felt like I'm out practicing with my team, my future team. There wasn't added nerves. It's obviously training camp and we have fitness testing to worry about, you want to impress yourself and do good. For me, I felt really comfortable. I'm familiar with Blash (Wings coach Jeff Blashill), with his teachings on the ice, his drills now, I got pretty familiar with that. So it really helps being around the players in the summertime and knowing how they are on the ice, off the ice, just makes me more comfortable and makes going to the rink more enjoyable. You're not worrying about stepping on someone's toes or anything like that.
The Red Wings are a great group of guys. I was looking forward to being with them again. Actually I was happy to be on the ice with Abby (Justin Abdelkader). We worked on some drills in the summertime, some shooting drills. Justin, he's a really nice guy. He's very polite. He doesn't overlook anyone. You spend time and talk to him. Kronner (Niklas Kronwall) would take the time to talk to me, to educate me on small things on the ice. I remember one time we were driving back from practice and we were just having small conversations about the NHL and life, just little talks like that. So it was nice to actually get on the ice and skate with them again.
During the preseason I thought I did what I could do. I was showcasing my talents as I could. Obviously looking back at it, there's things I could improve on because I didn't make the team out of camp. But I think my preseason went pretty good. When I was sent down, there was an exit meeting. It was Ryan Martin, Steve Yzerman, and Shawn Horcoff. Their feedback was all positive. I was pleased to hear it but not pleased at the same time. I wanted to stay there. But they told me all good things and I spoke with Blash after. They liked how much I'm improving and where I'm at right now. I just have to fine tune my skills and make myself into an everyday NHL player.
After hearing from Wings management - it gives me a positive belief that even though I got sent back down to Grand Rapids, if I just keep working, keep working on my skills, on my talents, that one day I'm going to wear the Red Wings jersey.
There is one aspect of my game which I'm really focusing on. This year I'm working on my puck management in the neutral zone. Not turning pucks over, keeping the play alive in the offensive zone, that's probably my biggest, that's my No. 1, that's on my list right now to worry about for me. There's also little things that I can keep improving into my game, but that's probably, from what I've heard, my biggest thing that I have to improve on.
Though I need to hone my game a little, I think I'm in a really good situation. With everything that's going on with the Red Wings, they want to rebuild their team and in Grand Rapids we have a lot of high-end talent, first-round talent here, a lot of key players that are looking to make that step in the next couple years to play for the Red Wings. It's fun. We have a young team, a lot of young talent, a lot of really good people on this team so it's really fun to come to the rink to see all my friends, see all these guys and play hockey, practice and play games. When we win, it's really fun.
Plus having Ben Simon as coach has been a really positive experience for me. Ben is great. He's an awesome coach. He's played the game so he understands what it's like to be a player like us, to be in a player's shoes. Benny, he's professional. He's on the line of being a players' coach and being able to have a conversation with the guys on the team and not feel uncomfortable but he's also very business. When it's time to get serious, he can get serious. He's our head coach, when he speaks, everyone listens. He's great to be around. A lot of the guys respect him, I respect him. He has great teachings and he's a really good coach.
At the end of the year, I want to be in Detroit. My expectations for myself is if I'm fortunate enough to get called up, I want to leave a good impression where at the end of the season they go back and say hey, Smith's had a dominant year in the AHL, he did what he was supposed to do, had to do, he's ready to play in the NHL.
My whole life has led me to where I am today, as close to the NHL as I have ever been. I am totally committed to playing for the Red Wings. I dream of putting on the Detroit sweater. When that day comes, it will be the best day of my life.
In his five preseason games played this season for the Red Wings, Smith finished with one goal, one assist, was plus-2 and was assessed 26 penalty minutes.
Smith has played in two games for the Grand Rapids Griffins thus far; he has one goal, two assists, is even and has been assessed five penalty minutes.