Craig Smith makes easy NHL transition

When Nashville Predators rookie center Craig Smith made the decision to forgo his final two seasons at the University of Wisconsin to turn pro, he was in for a big transformation.

College hockey teams generally practice all week in preparation for Friday and Saturday night games before repeating the cycle again the next week. Well, that and carrying a full load of classes that appropriately puts the student first in student-athlete.

After reaching the national championship game in his freshman year and serving as an assistant captain as a sophomore, Smith felt the time was right to leave his hometown of Madison to join the Predators, who selected him 98th overall in the 2009 NHL draft. Smith made the team in training camp and has appeared in each of Nashville’s first five games this season.

Smith had two goals and two assists in his first two games and is having little difficulty with the transition from college to the pros. A series of early road games helped facilitate the change — the Predators opened with two on the road before playing their first two home games of the year. This week, Nashville is playing three games in western Canada.

"I really enjoy being on the road with the guys," Smith said. "It is nice on the road games because you have to pull together a little bit more than you do at home. You have to create your own energy on the bench."

One comfort of playing in the NHL is the method of travel — the long bus rides in college have been replaced with charter flights, which sits very well with Smith.

"I really like flying to games," he said. "It has been a treat so far."

Predators coach Barry Trotz likes what he sees in Smith early, but he knows that the NHL season is a long grind.

"The early part is easy because it is all adrenaline and everything is new," Trotz said. "The mindset in college hockey is that they get you geared up for two games a week; the bands are playing and all that. As a pro hockey player, you have to be self-motivated. If someone needs to motivate you to get you pumped up and focused and all that, then you are not ready for the pro game. A good pro can bring it most every night and that’s a tough transition for an amateur or a minor league player."

Central Division notes:

After making the Chicago Blackhawks out of training camp, Brandon Saad lasted just two games before being assigned to the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League. After being named to the team prior to the season opener, Saad started on the top line along with Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews. Saad was held without a point in his two NHL games, and the Blackhawks felt it was best for his development to return to juniors for another season. … The Blue Jackets placed C Jeff Carter on injured reserve Tuesday with a hairline fracture of his right foot. The team lists his status as week-to-week. … Detroit is off to a hot start as one of two teams, along with Washington, to win its first four games of the season. The Red Wings are having success in the win column despite struggling on the power play. In 19 opportunities with the man advantage, Detroit has scored just one power-play goal. … Nashville D Ryan Suter already has two goals on the season. He scored four in each of his last two seasons and is looking to shoot more as opponents pay close attention to his defensive partner, Shea Weber. "I have confidence in my shot," Suter said. … St. Louis C Andy McDonald has been sidelined indefinitely due to a concussion he suffered Oct. 13 in Dallas. It is the second concussion McDonald has sustained in as many seasons. He missed 24 games in 2010-11 after being concussed in early December.