Wings excited by Smith’s feisty potential

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — It was a late-season game in Flint, between two bad teams, but Kris Draper decided to make the drive.

Draper, who does a lot of amateur scouting these days for the Red Wings, drove to take one last look at Givani Smith, a prospect playing for Guelph.

What Draper saw that night convinced him Smith was the type of player the Red Wings needed to draft.

“Somebody was taking liberties with his teammate, and this was a 20-year-old (on Flint), which considering Givani was two- or three-years younger, that’s a major difference,” Draper said. “But Givani went in there and defended his teammate. He stood up for him.

“Late in the season like that, Givani could have just skated away. What he did, I liked seeing that.”

It’s a long way off, and there’s no guarantee. But Red Wings fans might have a future fan favorite, a cult hero they’ll love — and opponents’ fans can’t stand.

Smith, the organization’s second-round pick Saturday at the Entry Draft, plays the type of physical and agitating style that is sure to entertain Red Wings fans, but opponents will hate.

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“He plays the game hard,” Draper said. “He’s around the blue area (crease) a lot, which a lot of junior players aren’t.”

The Red Wings love the abrasiveness Smith brings to the organization.

“He makes life miserable for anybody, actually makes life miserable for a lot of his own teammates because he’s starting stuff all the time,” said Tyler Wright, the Red Wings’ director of amateur scouting. “If he’s not helping out on the score sheet, or he’s not figuring in offensively, he’s making their other best players really be aware of what’s going on the ice.

“He’s a big frame, a big kid, strong and powerful that plays nasty. When we had an opportunity to step up on him, we did.”

Getting a player such as Smith was important in this draft, as the Red Wings have been lacking in the physicality department.

“It was an area of need that we thought through the organization and that’s why we had him so high on our list,” Wright said.

Smith acknowledged the way he plays surely does (and will) irritate opponents. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder has the body and temperament to make games miserable.

“I play a mean game. I like to go in on the forecheck and get in guys’ faces,” Smith said. “(I like being) physical, I’m a big frame and I throw my body around and wear the defense down and create space on the ice.

“It’s been working for me, so I’m going to keep doing it.”

Which is music to Wright’s ears — and everyone else’s in the Red Wings organization.

“It’s that innate instinct that you either have or you don’t have, you can’t develop it,” Wright said. “He loves it, he relishes that role.”

Smith scored 23 goals for Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League, where he’ll return this season.

Smith is familiar to the Red Wings organization in that he was a Guelph teammate of another agitator, Tyler Bertuzzi, who isn’t nearly as big as Smith but can be just as irritating.

“I miss that guy,” Smith said.

Smith’s older brother Gemel was a 2012 draft pick of Dallas, and is currently in the Stars system. Gemel — a small, skilled player — gave his younger brother one piece of advice leading to the Entry Draft.

“Always play the way you played hockey,” Givani said. “Don’t change your style of play. Me being a power forward, competing every night, playing hard every night.”

Getting defensive

The Red Wings wanted to reinforce their defense in this draft and they appear to have done so.

They selected four defensemen out of their seven draft picks -- Dennis Cholowski (first round), Filip Hronek (second), Alfons Malmstrom (fourth) and Jordan Sambrook (fifth).

“We had identified this as being a fairly deep draft for D,” Wright said. “It was an organizational need that we thought we needed to get more defense into our system.

“Now, when we got into the later rounds, the D just kind of kept falling to us.”

As is every team, seemingly, at the conclusion of the weekend, Wright was happy what the Red Wings accomplished.

“We walked away pretty happy,” Wright said. “Everybody says that but we’re legitimately pretty excited. We targeted quite a few guys in areas and we thought we addressed those needs.”

Local players

Michigan was well represented in the Entry Draft. Seven players total from Michigan were picked.

Forwards William Lockwood (Bloomfield Hills/Vancouver Canucks) and Alex DeBrincat (Farmington Hills/Chicago Blackhawks), and goaltender Tyler Parsons (Chesterfield/Calgary Flames) were picked in the second round.

Defenseman Sean Day (Detroit/New York Rangers) went in Round 3, while forward Jack Kopacka (Metamora/Anaheim Ducks) was selected in the fourth round and defenseman Cameron Clarke (Tecumseh/Boston Bruins) in the fifth.

Forward Collin Adams (Brighton/New York Islanders) was selected in the sixth round.