Birthday: February 27, 1998
Birthplace: Toronto, Ontario
Weight: 205 lbs.
Junior Team: Guelph Storm (OHL)
Drafted: 46 overall, 2016
Fun Fact: His older brother Gemel plays for the Dallas Stars
3-year ELC Signed October 17, 2016 (2016-17 slide, slide-eligible this year) - AAV $927,500
Strength and Weaknesses
Givani is pure power. The Red Wings have furiously done a 180 on their organizational philosophy at forward, trying to emulate teams like the Ducks or Kings (I mean, sure) attempting to get bigger, stronger and meaner through the draft. Defiant as Ken Holland has been with his "small euro" composite over the years, something made him change gears so hard he broke the clutch. Givani is arguably the embodiment of Holland's new motive at forward.
Smith reminds me of a bubble hockey player. He's on a rail but beneath the circles, scraping those pucks along the boards and suddenly he's there to whack one into an empty net. He has a good sense down low. Smith doesn't look especially mobile but I believe he can muscle his way around loose pucks and use his body to position himself well deep in his own zone. He's certainly capable of getting to the net. While he's up in the Wings system, my hope is they'll have him work on his feet and not strictly be a net-front guy. I would rather him bounce around the zone like a beach ball at Pine Knob, retrieving pucks and crashing for rebounds than being stationary, which I fear is what's being instilled in him. By all accounts he has the strength, now get the footwork and we got something here.
Oh and fighting if you need it. There is a rather deep You Tube rabbithole of this dude beating fools up. Hopefully he didn't take their lunch money. Goodness he can fight.
Smith is raw but real in that you can tell something is here but it might take a while before you really see it. Hard to call that a weakness in a 19 year old but there are a lot of edges to be smoothed out before getting him to the show. I've already mentioned his skating and a couple breaths from mentioning the fighting as kind of a positive, well it's kind of a negative too. He'll be in a lot of scrums. Tomas Holmstrom took more punishment than any player and, uh, I don't recall him fighting? And Abdelkader tries to fight. Doesn't end well. But my point is, the game is moving away from tolerating eye-for-an-eye justice. Fighting still exists but is being faded out and a lot of chippiness and griminess that was formerly common in front of the net is also slowly fading. Smith cannot come in guns blazing (fun as that'd be for some of us to watch).
With time I believe Givani can blossom into a strong 20 goal scorer and a very fun player to watch. Just don't hold your breath.
He's Already Made History
We'd be remiss to not take this platform to mention Givani Smith is aiming to become only the fifth Red Wings player of color in franchise history. He's already the highest black player drafted in team history. To say it doesn't matter is to say (you) don't want it to matter because it does--perhaps more than it has in decades in the wake of recent events. This young man doesn't need anymore pressure put on him purely than that of making the NHL. His battle is fought induvidually but not in a vacuum. With every player of color cracking through the white sheet of ice, we'll see more appeal for the NHL as a product but more importantly kids of color saying, "That player looks like me, I can do that too!"-- more feeling that this game is actually for everyone. No matter how much emboldened hate continues to seep through classist communities of khakis and red caps, hockey sure as hell will be for everyone. It will be a back drop, more ironically from those who claim it doesn't matter while chiding Josh Ho-Sang for wearing no.66 and well, everything else he says and does. Then the long strange saga of P.K. Subban where he oddly became the first player in major pro sports to be run out of city for being too good and charitable. Or even to Givani himself, who was confused for another black player in an interview this season (he laughed it off with unnecessary charm). I certainly can't speak for their experience but from the outside looking in, it appears more difficult, significant and at times, delicate.
The four black players in Red Wings history? Brian Johnson, Nathan Robinson, the newly acquired Trevor Daley and journeyman forward Tony McKegney. Daley is set to play the first full season of any of them.
McKegney, who only played 14 games for the Red Wings in the 1989-90 season, had his first pro contract reneged when the owner of the WHA's Birmingham Bulls, caved to pressure from racist fans threatening to boycott. That wasn't even 40 years ago.
Smith, along with the aforementioned Daley, will be important players. Being Smith is organically grown in the Wings system and is wonderfully charismatic, he has every opportunity to become a fan favorite and trailblazer to many in the city. He'll accomplish that by simply continuing to do what he's been doing.