By: Gayle Troiani | Follow me on Twitter @LadyBruinsFan
Craig Smith struggled offensively in the 2021-2022 season for the Bruins, but that doesn’t mean he’s destined to be a failure this season. Bruins fans should expect not only to see an uptake in his offensive output but also a more confident playing style.
Last year, Smith played musical chairs when it came to what line he was on, and while that can give players the jump start they need to find their groove, it seemed to hinder Smith more than it helped; he finished the season with 16 goals and 20 assists in 74 games.
There’s still the question of where Smith will end up in the line-up. My guess is Taylor Hall will move up to Brad Marchand’s spot while the latter is on LTIR. Then, newly acquired Paval Zacha will slide into the second line with David Pastrnak and returning centerman David Krejci leaving Smith on the third line with Charlie Coyle and Trent Fredric.
Having consistent linemates can only help with Smith’s confidence because he’ll be able to continue building off the chemistry they had last season and provide secondary scoring beyond the top six forwards without the pressures of being on one of the top two lines. For example, half of Smith’s 16 goals during the 2021-2022 campaign came after he started playing alongside Coyle and Fredric when he potted eight goals in seven games.
The line of Smith, Coyle, and Fredric also provides physicality that could be bothersome to opposing players. However, the trio is working and hitting hard every time they step on the ice, night in and night out, giving the Bruins glimpses of “old time” hockey while generating offense.
“It feels good right now, but I think we’re staying close. We’re creating turnovers. We created some good energy for the bench, especially, and I think that carries on from line to line.”Smith after scoring two goals vs arizona on march 12, 2022
Before signing with Boston as a free agent following the 2019-2020 season, Smith played on the third line in Nashville alongside Nick Bonino and Rocco Grimaldi, scoring more than 20 goals in five different seasons with a career-high 25 in the 2017-2018 campaign.
If Smith can continue to build trust and chemistry with Coyle and Fredric, the Bruins should see the third line produce more consistently. Although he can be streaky, Smith is a natural shooter from anywhere on the ice, and their line could be a critical factor in the Bruins’ early season success while Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk remain sidelined due to offseason surgeries.
Another area that should see improvement from Smith is the power play. Suppose Krejci takes on the role of “quarterback” as he did in previous seasons. In that case, Smith should benefit from Krejci’s playmaking skills and help the Bruins score more goals on the man advantage, especially with Marchand out for the beginning of the season.
Depending on how productive Smith is to start the season and where the Bruins stand in December when Marchand returns could determine whether or not Smith becomes a casualty of the cap or if Don Sweeney can work some magic and keep the winger throughout the season.