November 10, 2011
The Western Conference standings are currently full of unexpected developments. There weren't many predicting the Dallas Stars to be at the top, there were fewer still predicting the Edmonton Oilers to be leading the Northwest division, and it's pretty strange to see the Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks sitting outside the playoff bubble as well.
Some of these things won't last, but thankfully, there's one element of the Western Conference standings that is already as it always will be: no matter what happens, no matter how they play or who they employ, the Nashville Predators will finish fifth.
It's basically tradition.
How are they doing it? Trap hockey, right? Lockdown hockey? Not really. Sure, the Predators are averaging 25.8 shots per game, the mark of a team sitting back, but they're they're actually allowing a whopping 33.1 shots per game, more than all teams but the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers.
Guy Boucher says that's no trap. And Kanye West says that's no lockdown.
So how are they really doing it? Apart from the fact that, as I said, a 5th-place Nashville finish is an unexplainable inevitability, employing the league's highest-scoring rookie is sure helping. Craig Smith(notes) is getting it done.
The first-year centre was the first line centre in Wednesday night's 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks, registering 2 goals and an assist. The 3-point night gave him to 14 on the season, 2 more than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins(notes) kid and more than all but 21 other players.
Smith has been the Predators' standout through the first 15. His 45 shots, 7 goals, 14 points are tied for team-highs with Shea Weber(notes), Patrick Hornqvist, and David Legwand(notes), respectively.
So why have we heard next to nothing about him?
First, he's old. Look left: he's old enough to grow hair on his lip (albeit not much).
While wunderkinds Adam Larsson(notes) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are 18, Smith's rookie campaign comes at 21. Rather than jump right into the NHL, Smith, drafted 98th overall by the Predators in 2009, spent two years at the University of Wisconsin, racking up 76 points in 82 games.
Third, he plays for the Nashville Predators. Even if hockey writers could look past all that gold (seriously, watching the Preds play is like looking into Flava Flav's mouth), Nashville doesn't exactly play a brand of hockey conducive to noticing forwards.
All that said, overlook all the reasons you might typically overlook Craig Smith and take notice, because the kid is playing at nearly a point per game pace in his rookie year, on a team whose pace is typically more akin to gastropods. It's a pretty great story.
It's going to take a miracle — maybe even a literal miracle, someone might have to heal the sick — for anyone but Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to win the Calder this year, but considering what Craig Smith has accomplished to date, it might be unwise to put it past him.