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 has split time between playing for the Grand Rapids Griffins, Detroit's AHL affiliate, and the Red Wings. Here is his eighth entry of 'Powering Forward.'
Powering Forward - Entry 8
by Givani Smith
As a little kid, I would imagine myself playing in the NHL, doing things to score. 'Givani Smith has the puck and he scores.' I'd always do that as a kid, dreaming about playing in the National Hockey League.
So when I was sitting in my apartment in Grand Rapids last October and got the call from Ryan Martin (Detroit's assistant general manager and Griffins general manager) that the Red Wings were calling me up, I wasn't too excited. It was just more so readiness. I was ready to play. I wasn't obviously upset, it was great news. But I just took it as another game. Ryan told me that we were playing the next night in Detroit so work your way over here. For me, I just hit a switch. It's a hockey game so I have to prepare myself, get ready for it. It just happens to be in the National Hockey League.
When I got to Detroit and was in my hotel room, I had some quiet time, just getting ready for the next night. I starting thinking, wow, am I really here right now, is this really happening? Am I actually where I'm supposed to be right now, am I dreaming? But then that's the whole point, that's the dream. I dreamed of being here and I'm actually here. So that first night was kind of fun to reflect on everything, how I got here and all the things I had to go through and stuff like that. Then just as soon as I got here, I tried to focus on getting back to business.
Walking into the Red Wings' dressing room as a Wing for the first time was a good experience. The guys never hazed me or anything like that kind of rookie stuff, they just allowed me to focus on my game and let myself be able to give myself the best chance to play my best game. So I really appreciated that. Seeing my jersey hung up, it was pretty surreal. You can't mimic that feeling because I worked pretty much 10-plus years, more than that, since I was six years old playing hockey, 15-16 years, for this moment. Here I am. To see my jersey in its stall - it was just spectacular.
My first game in the NHL was on Oct. 25 against the Buffalo Sabres. The bright lights, it was really nice. But at the same time for me, it's a game. It's hockey. I didn't want to step outside my comfort zone because why would I? I've done what I had to do to get here, I play a certain way and Detroit likes my style of play, so against Buffalo I just played my game and the nerves went away because I'm playing how Givani Smith plays. I can't be something I'm not, I just play how I play. That's what I am. It's up to people how they view me because they watch me play and I just play. But I know I am a complete player. I know what I can do out there, including my limitations on the ice. But I would never pass on myself, because I am not one dimensional, I'm always working to be better, I know I can do more.
I'm a rookie, so I have to put my footprint in this league and kind of establish myself as being physical and skillful. When I'm on the ice I think I can carry a presence. If players don't notice it, they're going to see it. When they see it, they should try to stay away from it because they don't want to get hit with it. I know who I am as a person and as a player. There's no gimmick for that for me.
A few times since I've been in Detroit, people have asked me if I'm an enforcer. I don't just go out there looking to enforce. It's kind of like an older term. I wouldn't really classify myself as that. I like to play a certain way, I like to keep guys honest on the ice. Also it's allowing safer play. People do dumb stuff out there on the ice. I wouldn't like it if it was happening to me or to my linemates. It's just how I am. These are my brothers out here and teammates. I'll stick up for them. So, if to enforce is to play hard - that's my game - then I would say yes.
I scored my first NHL goal on Jan. 14 against the New York Islanders on Long Island, but we lost the game. Scoring a goal in the NHL is really exciting, I've been working pretty hard to get to that point, it's a big milestone for me, but it's really tough when you lose a game, so when I scored, we were down big, I didn't want to go too crazy celebrating my goal. But I know there will be plenty of goals for me to celebrate as Red Wing.
When Ryan Martin called to tell me I had been called up to the Red Wings, that was a real time for celebration. I probably spent about the first hour after I hung up, calling my friends, my family, my parents, my brothers, everyone that's helped me and motivated me to help get me to where I am. I was saying, 'Guess what? Guess what I'm going to do tomorrow? You won't believe it.' My whole family was so happy for me, but there's one person I really want everyone to know about, my Aunt Maureen.
Her voice when I told her that I was playing, she was so excited for me. I asked her to come up to Detroit. That news was just so exciting. Because she was going through a tough time, we were both going through tough times, so to hear that good news lifted a weight off her chest because she was with me the whole entire way since I was really young, 9-10 years old, playing hockey. She was there, picking me up. She made a lot of sacrifices for me. So to get to share that moment with her was really special. We're family so it's about looking out for one another. I'm always going to be there for her, she's been there for me always growing up. Having her on the Mothers trip that we had was really special for me and for her. It was kind of like me just saying thank you for everything, how much I appreciate her. She's always the first one that I talked to, with hockey or without hockey, she's always played a very big role in my life. She's been there always, not just through hockey but just through me growing as a person. Without my Aunt, I would not be a Detroit Red Wing.
At this point, I'm taking it day by day. When I play games, I'm going to try my best to help the Wings win. I'll do what I can to showcase myself. Mostly for next year, too, and also for the future. Eventually I'm going to have to go back to Grand Rapids this season. That's how the game goes, the business goes. But I have achieved one goal. But I am far from done. I keep making new goals, goals for every year, for every season.
I've been asked a lot about the future. I have an idea what the future will look like for me. Obviously I'd be playing in Detroit full-time instead of going up and down. But predicting the future, it's a tough question because it's every day. What I do every day makes my future. It's what I have to do every single day to make sure my future is being a contributing member of the Red Wings for many, many, years. That's my future.
Smith has played in 22 games for the Grand Rapids Griffins thus far. He has four goals, nine assists, is minus-5 and has been assessed 59 penalty minutes.
In 11 games this season for the Red Wings, Smith has one goal, one assist, is minus-1 and has been assessed five penalty minutes.