For any Bruins fan who may not know much about new right wing Craig Smith (understandable given he’s spent his whole career in the Western Conference), just listen to Charlie Coyle talk about him and get excited.
“I’ve always liked his game,” Coyle said Tuesday. “Just playing against him over the years, he’s quick, he works hard, it seems like he’s always in your face. He’s always there. He’s shifty, crafty. I’ve always liked his game. I used to hate playing against him when I was out there against him, so I’m really happy to be playing with him.”
Coyle and Smith saw plenty of each other for the nearly seven seasons they were in the same division -- Coyle with the Minnesota Wild, Smith with the Nashville Predators.
Now it looks like they’ll be on the same line in Boston, at least to start this season. They’ve been together in the first couple practices of training camp, and coach Bruce Cassidy said that while moving Smith up to the top line until David Pastrnak comes back could be a possibility, he wants him to build chemistry with Coyle as that’s where he envisions Smith being if all goes well.
“I was excited when we picked him up, even more excited when I showed up to camp a few days ago and saw that I was playing with him,” Coyle said. “So we’re trying to get to know each other a little more on the ice, off the ice. But I think he’s a proven goal-scorer, can put the puck in the net, bring some energy and some fire and a whole lot to our line and our team.”
To Coyle’s point, Smith was closing in on a sixth 20-goal season in the last seven years before last season was cut short by COVID-19. For a Bruins team that wanted to address its secondary scoring and five-on-five scoring, Smith -- who does the bulk of his scoring at 5-on-5 -- was a very smart signing, one that was widely praised nationally as one of the best signings in free agency and yet somehow still feels a bit overlooked locally.
Smith’s shot has already made an early impression in training camp, as seen in the video below, but his new teammates have taken note of more than just his finish.
“Craig’s really impressed me a lot,” said defenseman Matt Grzelcyk. “Got to play against him a couple times when he was with Nashville. I was always very impressed with his game. He’s tough. He competes really hard on the puck, but also he has an unbelievable shot. I think that’s something he’s known for.
“He can definitely put the puck in the net, but I think an underrated part of his game is how hard he works, how hard he competes on the ice. He’s tough to defend. I think he can do a few different little things, he can grind it out, but also he has a ton of skill too. He’s been a great addition so far.”