Red Wings' Givani Smith excited about making his NHL debut Friday at LCA
Detroit — Givani Smith had been waiting for this day for a long time, ever since he could remember.
On Friday, completing the morning skate after Smith had been called up from Grand Rapids, and hours before his NHL debut, the wait finally was over.
“It’s been my goal from day one,” said Smith, the Wings’ 2016 second-round draft pick. “When I was a kid I always dreamed about this moment, playing in the NHL, and tonight is the night.”
Smith’s promotion came about partly because of the Wings’ injuries from Wednesday’s loss in Ottawa.
Smith essentially replaces forward Luke Glendening, who suffered a hand injury blocking a shot in Ottawa, and according to coach Jeff Blashill, will miss two to four weeks, and maybe longer. Blashill also said defenseman Danny DeKeyser will miss at least two weeks, after aggravating a lower-body injury.
Also, forward Justin Abdelkader is day-to-day after a leg injury after blocking a shot in Ottawa (Christoffer Ehn, a healthy scratch in Ottawa, was to re-enter the lineup Friday).
Smith is a natural replacement for either Glendening or Abdelkader — a physical, burly (6-foot-2, 210-pounds) forward who likes to play a physical game and goes into the hard areas of the ice.
“I know myself, and the coaching staff knows what to expect from me,” Smith said. “I’m a physical player, and I’m not going to try to be something I’m not. Just go out there and play my game, and everything will fall into place.”
In talking with assistant general manager Ryan Martin and Griffins coach Ben Simon, Smith was the natural call-up, Blashill said.
“When Givani has been up here, he’s played good in the exhibitions the last two years, and he’s been real good down there,” Blashill said. “We’ve said for a few days maybe he cann come in and help us. He’s a net presence guy who scores the hard type of goals and he brings physicality. He’s the type ofo guy who brings you into the fight a a little bit.
“I’m excited to give him a shot up and it’s a good reward for his play down there.”
Smith had two goals and two assists in four games with the Griffins, with a minus-1 plus-minus rating, and seven penalty minutes.
Smith had 86 penalty minutes in Grand Rapids last season, and two seasons of 146 minutes in junior hockey.
Blashill can live with an occasional physical penalty from Smith, but with the way the Wings’ penalty killing has been going — it’s ranked 26th in the NHL — they can’t afford the lazy, irresponsible penalties.
“We can’t take a lot of penalties, we’ve talked about it, we have to make sure that our penalty killers have a chance to kill one, two, or three penalties, not four or five,” Blashill said. “When you’re a physical player you kind of ride that line a little bit. For me, when he takes a penalty out of physicality, sometimes you live with those. You don’t want the hooks and holds and trips.”
Smith was expecting about 10 to 12 family and friends to make the drive from Toronto for Friday’s game at Little Caesars Arena.
The first call Smith made when he found out he was headed to the Wings was his older brother Gemel, who is playing for Syracuse in the AHL, and has played 83 NHL games with Dallas, Boston and Tampa.
“He’s real excited for me,” Givani Smith said. “He gave me advice and to be myself.”
Forward Evgeny Svechnikov has shown a bit of physical edge since being called up by the Wings, and said he enjoys that part of the game.
"I like to get in there and get on the forecheck and get that first hit," Svechnikov said. "To finish my check, I like to do that. It's a huge part of the game, especially deep into the season. Even now, it's huge for a team, to be physical."
Svechnikov missed all last season to knee surgery, and now wears a brace. He said that is limiting his speed on the ice.
"It's going to take time," said Svechnikov of regaining all his speed. "It's still not there and the brace doesn't help it. It slows me down. But there's nothing you can do about it, just push through and work."
... Blashill said forward Adam Ernie (upper body) is hopeful of re-entering the lineup Sunday against St. Louis.