Saturday night marked the eighth and final preseason game in the Nashville Predators’ slate of tune up matches prior to Friday night’s start to the regular season. With a 2-1 overtime victory over the visiting Carolina Hurricanes, Barry Trotz said the players in Saturday night’s contest made his decisions on who makes the final roster even tougher.
The player who scored the game-winner probably was not on the bubble of making the team even before the puck dropped in Bridgestone Arena Saturday, but Craig Smith’s tenacious effort on the game’s final shift further solidified his place on the opening night roster.
Smith and Colin Wilson were all over the Hurricanes inside the Carolina zone as the clock wound down its final seconds in the extra session. Smith then dispossessed reigning Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner of the puck just inside the blue line and beat Brian Boucher with a long wrist shot set up by a nice screen by Wilson with 10.3 ticks left.
“I actually used Willy as a screen,” Smith said. “When he came across, he screened the goalie for about a half a second there, and I just kind of shot it off his backside and just hit the far end of the post.”
Smith got a long look from the coaching and management staff in the preseason games, playing six of eight. He collected three assists in his first five, but Saturday night was his first goal.
“I am thrilled,” Smith said. “My main goal was to play as many games as I could and just try to get my feet wet and get the taste of what the NHL was like. I was thrilled to play that many games.”
His head coached liked what he saw on the game’s final shift.
“That’s exactly what you want from a player,” Trotz said following the game. “We always talk about staying on the puck and make it really hard and that last play was indicative of it.”
In his postgame press conference, Trotz noted that the coaching staff has not really had an opportunity to form lines with the forwards they still have in camp. He said that once the top 12 are determined, they will look to put together some line combinations.
“More than anything, we have to decide which are our 12 best guys and put them in a position and let them go,” Trotz said.
Smith has seen preseason action both at center and on the wing, so that versatility plays into his favor.
It does not appear that Mike Fisher will be ready for the start of the season due to his offseason shoulder surgery, so that opens no only a roster spot, but a fair amount of ice time that otherwise would be occupied by the player acquired from the Ottawa Senators prior to last season’s trade deadline.
Players other than Smith will fight for the spot opened by Fisher’s absence, but he will definitely be in the mix to gain some of the available ice time. If Smith continues to play the way he has in the preseason, his ice time will be plentiful.