Givani Smith didn't have an enviable situation in his draft year. The physical left winger played for literally one of the worst teams in all of major junior – the Guelph Storm – and watched coach Bill Stewart walk out on his troops after Guelph won just two of its first 27 games. But scouts saw Smith's unique combination of brawn and skill and knew he'd be a good one. Detroit nabbed him in the second round this summer and now he's already impressing NHLers.
“He’s a tank out there," said Philadelphia's Wayne Simmonds. "He skates well, he shoots well, he thinks the game the right way. Detroit got a great pick there in the second round. He’s sure of himself but not cocky. That’s good for a young kid.”
Smith has been skating with Simmonds and a host of other players the kid grew up watching – such as Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly and Joel Ward – at the annual BioSteel camp in Toronto. Despite being one of the youngest players there, his role models all stepped up for him.
“All the guys are really welcoming," Smith said. "I felt like I fit right in.”
Smith has always had hockey influences around him. Older brother Gemel Smith is a Dallas Stars prospect and told a 13-year-old Givani there was a certain way to play if he wanted to make it to the pros. Givani took that to heart and has been a handful for opponents in junior.
"Those guys are tough to find," said one scout. "A big, tough winger. In front of the net, you can't move him."
Smith's a tough customer in general, having fought both Lawson Crouse and 6-foot-7 Logan Stanley in the past season. When your team is outgunned on the scoresheet most nights, those type of motivational tilts tend to happen. With the OHL's new fighting crackdown, Smith knows he'll have to be more judicious in dropping the gloves, but he also has higher expectations for the Storm. Guelph landed offensive defenseman Ryan Merkley with the first pick overall in the OHL draft and fellow blueliner Dmitri Samorukov with the second pick in the CHL Import Draft. Plus, the team got markedly better under new coach Jarrod Skalde, who went 10-22-4 after taking over for Stewart.
“Right away, the vibe changed in the room," Smith said. "Guys were feeling a little better coming to the rink, having a bit more fun. That’s what we needed. And he worked with all of us. He was giving everyone opportunities. In my second year, I was getting first-line power play time and rookies were getting lots of ice time and power play. Everyone could prove themselves.”
At the next level, Smith is ready for anything. While the Red Wings aren't traditionally known as a physical team, you can't dispute the effect that Niklas Kronwall had in recent years. Not to mention classic Red Wings before him, such as Darren McCarty, Brendan Shanahan and Tomas Holmstrom. Now they've got the gritty Tyler Bertuzzi coming up the ranks, as well as Smith.
“Based on my playing style, I can play either bottom six or top six," Smith said. "Get pucks deep, grind it out in the corners, take pucks to the net. I can score goals. I’m fine with any role.”
And that will be his ticket once his junior tenure is finished. That's when the "tank" will roll into Detroit. Opponents, you've been warned.