Detroit — The step from junior to pro hockey is not easy — and Givani Smith found that out almost as quickly as began last season in Grand Rapids.
Smith made his professional debut last October with the Griffins, the Red Wings’ minor-league affiliate, and the season turned out to be one long class on pro hockey.
Smith, 21, had plenty to learn. More than he expected.
And though Smith didn't pass with flying colors, he certainly didn't fail. It was a passing grade, so to speak, with the expectation Smith will keep adjusting and thriving to the professional game.
“Just learning many small things,” Smith said, of what he learned in particular in the American League.
“Like sleeping habits, and small techniques you have to learn. Practice. You have to focus on many things that translate into the pro game.
“Coming from junior, it’s different playing against men, guys who’ve been there 10-plus, or 5-plus years. It’s a transition — and that’s what I did (transition).”
Smith, the Wings’ 2016 second-round draft pick, continues to be an intriguing prospect. He's a 6-foot-2, 220-pound power forward, bringing an element of size and physical presence that is in short supply in the organization.
In 64 games, Smith had 13 points (six goals, seven assists) with Grand Rapids, with a plus-2 rating and 86 penalty minutes. Smith added two assists in four playoff games, with a plus-1 rating, another sign he began to grasp his lessons as the season progressed.
“It was a pretty long season for me, first year in pro,” Smith said. “Kind of a slow start but it ended pretty strong in the playoffs.
“I knew my process and what I had to do. I knew I’d have to go down to the AHL and prove myself a little bit. So, coming back my second year, I’m pretty confident on what is going to happen now.”
From the time the Wings drafted Smith, they were enthused about Smith’s willingness to play a tough, abrasive game.
It’s a style of play Smith enjoys.
“I like to get into the dirty areas,” Smith said, of around the crease area and in the corners, specifically, and winning one-on-one battles. “That’s just the way I like to play, with the rough (stuff) and getting into dirty areas.”
Smith talked with new general manager Steve Yzerman this summer, and received a vote of confidence.
“He likes that (the grinding style), I’m happy about that,” Smith said. “We had a couple of conversations at the end, at the exit meetings. I had a chance to talk to Steve and things sounded pretty good with them. They mentioned my style of play, and he watched me when he (Yzerman) was in Tampa and he liked the things I can do out there.”
While the Wings are firmly in a rebuild, and positions on the roster seemingly are available to be taken, it’s still not going to be easy for a prospect like Smith to earn a spot in the near future.
Not to mention, Smith is continuing to learn the hard life of pro hockey, with consistency being a major hurdle he has to overcome, along with becoming a stronger skater and eliminating needless penalties.
Still, Smith is headed to training camp intent on being on the NHL opening night roster.
“Just (from) the confidence I had last season, the way I finished up the year I had and the confidence in myself as a player and what I can do,” Smith said.
“I know what (open spots) are around and I know what the team is looking for and I’ll go to camp ready to go.”