The Detroit Red Wings’ summer to-do list is rolling on. The new head coach, Derek Lalonde, has been hired. The 2022 NHL Draft, free agency, and trades will continue to improve the talent and depth of the roster as training camp draws closer. There will be plenty of competition for a diminishing number of open positions on the opening night NHL roster. Here is a look at Givani Smith, who will be battling for a key role as a bottom-six forward spot on the Red Wings in 2022-23.
Givani Smith’s NHL Profile
Smith was drafted by Detroit in the second round (46th overall) of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound power forward has played three seasons for the team with a career-high 46 games in 2021-22. This past season he posted four goals and three assists while racking up 108 penalty minutes.
During the previous two seasons, he played in 37 total NHL games splitting time between Detroit and their American Hockey League affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins. He notched his first multi-point game on Feb 7, 2021, versus the Florida Panthers, recording a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” with a goal, assist, and a fighting major in the same game (from ‘Givani Smith’s ‘Gordie Howe Hat Trick’ helps end Red Wings’ skid,’ Mlive.com, Feb 7, 2021). He spent plenty of time in the penalty box before his professional career: in 236 games in the Ontario Hockey League, he accumulated 411 penalty minutes and led the league in that category in consecutive seasons from 2015-16 to 2016-17.
Making History with His Brother
On Jan. 19, 2022, the Red Wings claimed 27-year-old forward Gemel Smith, Givani’s brother, off waivers from the Tampa Bay Lightning. The two played hockey their whole lives growing up in Toronto but never played for the same team. The Smith brothers became the first pair of Black siblings in the franchise’s 96-year history when they took the ice together for the first time on Feb. 14 against the Minnesota Wild.
They also became the first siblings to play in the same game for the Red Wings since Frank and Pete Mahovlich played together on March 30, 1969, and they’re the fourth pair of siblings to dress for the same team in 2021-22, joining Haydn and Cale Fleury of the Seattle Kraken, Darren and Taylor Raddysh of the Lightning, and Caleb and Seth Jones for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Brings Needed Physicality to Detroit’s Lineup
Smith brings a physical presence to the Red Wings’ lineup that is sorely needed even in the modern NHL that emphasizes speed and skill. During a rough stretch in early January, captain Dylan Larkin realized his team wasn’t playing with the toughness needed to win games.
“I felt when it’s gotten physical, we’ve been mediocre,” Larkin said after a disappointing 5-1 loss on Jan. 2, 2022, to the Boston Bruins. “We need to have better pushback when it gets physical.” Four days later, on Jan. 6, against the San Jose Sharks, Smith showed what Larkin was referring to. After dropping the gloves against defenseman Jacob Middleton at 18:16 of the first period, Smith delivered a big hit on Middleton later in the period. Both sequences brought the Little Caesars Arena crowd to its feet, sparking Detroit to a 6-2 victory.
In most of his games, he saw limited minutes, typically under 10 per game. However, in a five-game stretch from March 5-22, he played between 14-18 shifts, seeing over 12 minutes per game and recording one assist, 10 shots, and 17 penalty minutes. In those five games, which included a four-game Western Conference road trip, the Red Wings went a respectable 2-3. However, Smith became a healthy scratch for the remainder of the season as the team went 6-10-2 to end the campaign.
Outlook on Smith for 2022-23
Lalonde will implement his new system that preaches team defense, stopping puck habits, risks in their game, and management of the puck. While every player will need to adhere to these standards, this is especially true of those vying for spots on the third and fourth lines. During Lalonde’s four-year stint as an assistant coach for the Lightning, the third and fourth lines were just as significant, helping the team to three Stanley Cup appearances. Even though they lost contributors like Tyler Johnson, Blake Coleman, and Yanni Gourde a season ago, they received significant contributions this playoff run from Nick Paul, Brandon Hagel, and Ross Colton.
Smith brings a skill set that many players on the Red Wings’ roster do not possess. His energy and toughness can be an asset on a team looking to become harder to play against. Many players make a significant improvement after their first full season at the NHL level, and after being a healthy scratch on many nights, he should see more than the 46 games next season.
He has one year remaining on his two-year contract that carries a cap hit of $750,000, signed last September. With a fresh set of eyes on his game under a new coaching staff, Smith has an opportunity to earn an important role in the continuing rebuild of the Red Wings lineup.
Rob Klein grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan playing pond hockey every winter, and watching Hockey Night in Canada on CBC every Saturday. Being able to finally watch his Red Wings hoist the Stanley Cup in 1997 was his finest NHL moment. As a fan of the NHL for over 40 years he has been able to follow many great teams and appreciate the history of this great game as well as the remarkable talent that is playing today.