Word sure travels fast.
One of the players Nashville Predators general manager David Poile mention Wednesday during his ‘Skate of the Union’ remarks was center Craig Smith, a 2009 fourth-round draft pick.
Smith has two years of eligibility remaining at the University of Wisconsin, where he was slated to be a captain this coming season. The way Poiles put it, though, he also had a chance to play in the NHL this season, if he so chose.
Wisconsin issued a release Thursday that said Smith, 21, decided to turn pro and forgo his remaining college seasons.
“We’re excited for Craig,” coach Mike Eaves said in the release. “The window of opportunity to make a move like this is sometimes small. The landscape has changed with Nashville in that the team has changed somewhat with free agency.”
Nashville traded one center, Matthew Lombardi, and lost another, Marcel Goc, to free agency since the start of July.
The only established centers on the current NHL roster are Mike Fisher and David Legwand. A third, Blake Geoffrion (a former college teammate of Smith’s), likely has a position as well based on his play late last season and in the playoffs.
Smith got a taste of professional competition in the spring when he played with NHL players on the U.S. National Team at the World Championships. He was the USA’s second-leading scorer with six points (three goals, three assists) and a team-high plus-2 rating.
“[Smith] had every thought after a successful senior men’s World Championship to come back and play here at Wisconsin, but he feels like there is an opportunity now and he feels in his heart it is the right time to go,” Eaves said.
Smith led Wisconsin last season with 19 goals, including five game-winners, and was second with 43 points. He finishes his career with 27 goals and 76 points in 82 games.