BRIGHTON, Mass – New guy Craig Smith has stood out for the Boston Bruins from his very first days with his new hockey club in training camp last week.
The 31-year-old Smith has a higher gear to his skating, has flashed a wicked shot that’s allowed him to become a 20-goal scorer at the NHL level and has exhibited the kind of energy that can be contagious on a hockey club. Smith even showed during some shootout drills that he might be able to help the Black and Gold in that area as well, which would be a welcome development. It was also obviously immediately that the new guy is going to help the third line tremendously while teamed up with third line center Charlie Coyle from the very opening of training camp. Smith is going to give Boston some of the secondary scoring they’ve been yearning for the last few seasons, and not getting when it’s Cup-crunching time in the playoffs.
It remains to be seen just how much of an impact his presence is going to make, but Smith stands as the real bright spot of a Boston Bruins offseason where the big B’s story was the loss of established, longtime defensemen in Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara.
Bruce Cassidy has remarked several times about Smith being a “second and third effort player” and that’s no accident. It’s pretty clearly a big compliment thrown that veteran player’s way by a hockey coach that preaches that exact mentality to his younger charges on a regular basis. In that sense Smith will make a great role model for young players like Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork and Ondrej Kase as to what they need to do in order to reach their talent ceiling.
“On the ice [it’s] work ethic and second and third efforts on the puck,” said Cassidy, when asked about Smith. “He’s willing to shoot and willing to go to the net. He made some nice low-to-high plays in the scrimmage the other day where there was nothing else behind the goal line and he made [the play] quick. He plays with a lot of pace. He’s really complimented those guys [on the third line] and he will continue to.
“It’s a big line, a line with pace and a line that’s hard to play against with some physicality. Right now, we like what we’re seeing out of all three of them. Smith has scored in this league, so that’s what you can expect down the road…some production out of that third line. That’s what we’re anticipating, and we haven’t seen anything different at this point.”
Smith had 18 goals and 31 points in 69 games last season for the Nashville Predators, but had topped 20 goals in five of the previous six seasons with the Preds after bursting onto the NHL scene. Clearly Smith believes in what the Bruins are doing based on the three-year deal he signed with Boston at the start of free agency, and he’s excited to get going with the Black and Gold.
He also believes in the potential of a third line combo with Coyle and Nick Ritchie that’s pretty much been in place since the beginning of camp.
“They’ve been unbelievable. Coyle and Ritchie are two big bodies out there that can hang on the puck, get in there and win battles,” said Smith. “Coyle is a guy that can hold onto the puck and create in open space. It’s going to take a little time, I think. Just coming in right away we’ve had a few games together, but once we get into games and we’re reacting to situations then that’s going to help.
“It’s been a huge honor [being a Bruin] and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. I think my dad is super fired up. It’s such a historic program. There have so many great players that have come through here and you can see it with all the banners. As soon as you walk in, you can see all the Cups they have won. It’s pretty cool. When you go around town you see hats and flags everywhere. It’s been really cool. This city really supports the team and it’s something else to be here.”
Now it’s just a matter of the new guy getting out on the ice in NHL games starting this week and introducing himself to Boston Bruins where it matters most: On the ice.