Chicago — Coach Jeff Blashill was talking about Givani Smith the other day, and the development of the young forward.
The player Smith is today, though far from a finished product, is much different from the one Smith was when he began his pro career two years ago.
Smith has learned and gained an understanding of what he does best, especially to get to the NHL level.
“When he first came in from junior, like a lot of guys, I don’t know that he was utilizing the skills that are going to separate him at this level,” Blashill said. “At the junior level, he might have been able to do more stuff. At this level, you have to figure out how can I be different than other people in a better way?
“He’s done that.”
Smith, 21, is on his third promotion to the Wings’ this season, and still looking for his first NHL point.
But what is a positive with the rugged 6-foot-2, 210-pound forward is the understanding to use his size and strength
Blashill credits the work of Grand Rapids Griffins coach Ben Simon and the staff there, plus Smith’s own maturity, as key to Smith’s development.
“He’s done it through self-discovery, looking and saying ‘OK, I’m not going to be a stickhandler through the neutral zone,” Blashill said. “I’m going to be a guy that is the best guy on the team in putting it behind people, forechecking hard, being unbelievably hard in front of the net. Hold on to the puck, getting it low to high’.
“He seems to have done that. Confidence would be the other thing, the other part.”
If Smith continues to improve and grow, he could become an important piece of the Wings’ rebuild.
There are few players in the organization with the type of size and strength that Smith possesses. With Smith’s ability to play a physical brand, gritty, brand of hockey, and ability to score some goals around the net, Smith could be an important part of the lineup.
“He’s a big, big man who is hard and isn’t afraid of anyone,” Blashill said. “He likes to jaw, likes to be involved. As long as he keeps his own game going the right way, it’s a positive.”
The Wings’ power play was scoreless in five attempts during Friday’s 4-1 loss in Dallas and allowed two shorthanded goals.
The Wings rank 26th in the power play (15.3 percent) and, at times, it appears the lack of consistent success is having an effect on the unit’s confidence.
“Confidence matters,” Blashill said. “We have talked a lot about it and confidence matters. The power play the other night (Tuesday against San Jose) was one of the best power plays we have had all season, and (Friday) there were lots of penalties, more than we have had most of the games, and it was a huge chance to be a difference in the game.
“But it was not a difference in the game. So, we have to be sure it is a difference. We have to do better.”
A key point in Friday’s game occurred midway in the first period, with the Wings leading 1-0 and enjoying a four-minute power play (Dallas forward Radek Faksa four-minute high-sticking).
The Wings barely generated any pressure, while allowing a shorthanded goal that went a long way toward changing the game’s momentum.
“We spend four minutes of power-play time and we don’t come out with a whole lot,” forward Dylan Larkin said. “They get a break there at the end from a turnover and that’s on us, we have to execute there.
“On a four-minute power play, we should get a lot more than what we got. That’s a frustrating thing.”
Red Wings at Blackhawks
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m., Sunday, United Center, Chicago
Outlook: The two Original Six rivals meet for the first time this season…Chicago (18-18-6) has won six of its last 10 games and are five points off a wild-card position…RW Patrick Kane (24 goals, 53 points) and C Jonathan Toews (20 assists, 30 points) continue to pace the Blackhawks' attack.