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Nashville Predators

Cole Smith The Latest Win For Predators’ Amateur Scouting Staff



Photo of Cole Smith by David Russell for Nashville Hockey Now

Cole Smith’s emergence as a reliable bottom-six forward was a boost for the Nashville Predators this season.

It’s also a win for the team’s amateur scouting staff, which identified Smith as a late bloomer with NHL potential following his senior year at the University of North Dakota in 2020. The Predators signed him as an undrafted free agent that spring.

“There’s all different paths [to the NHL],” Predators chief amateur scout Tom Nolan said Wednesday. “Some kids develop quicker than others. We’re always looking at guys who have gone through the draft … It’s important.”

As Nolan, assistant general manager Jeff Kealty and the rest of the Predators front office prepare for June’s NHL Draft, finding the next Smith will be among their priorities. Nashville owns nine picks in the top four rounds but none in the fifth, sixth or seventh.

If the Predators don’t acquire any late-round selections via trade, they could fill out their organizational depth chart with a player or two who slipped through the cracks. A few of the team’s UDFA success stories include Tanner Jeannot and Mathieu Olivier, both of whom were later flipped by Nashville in exchange for other assets, and Vernon Fiddler.

UDFAs who began their careers with other teams but eventually played for the Predators include Carter Hutton, Matt Irwin, Kiefer Sherwood, Jerred Smithson and Joel Ward.

In his breakout 2023-24 season, Smith posted a career-high 23 points (9 goals, 14 assists), a plus-5 rating and 63 penalty minutes. He also finished second on the team in hits (235) behind only NHL leader Jeremy Lauzon.

The 28-year-old Smith was rewarded with a two-year, $2 million contract extension in January.

“I think this year was my best year, obviously, that I’ve had,” he said during the team’s end-of-season media availability. “You keep growing and you learn you belong here. That breeds confidence, and I think confidence is key, especially in this league. I learned a lot about myself. I’m able to play this game at a pretty good level.”

Smith’s path to the NHL began when he nearly tripled his scoring output from his first year in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League to his second, going from 23 points with the Steinbach Pistons in 2014-15 to 61 points in 2015-16.

He made incremental improvements over his four seasons at North Dakota, culminating in an 11-goal, 7-assist showing in 2019-20.

After spending most of his first two professional seasons in the minor leagues, Smith carved out a full-time role with the Predators last year. He notched four goals and 13 assists in 69 games.

Smith’s physicality made him a natural fit alongside Sherwood and Michael McCarron on Nashville’s fourth line this season, which helped establish the team’s identity under first-year head coach Andrew Brunette.

“We kind of had our own family within that line,” Smith said. “We were joking with each other and always chirping with each other. It’s all friendly in the end. We’re really close, and it’s so much fun playing with those guys.”

Smith said he plans to spend part of the summer playing golf and fishing back home in Minnesota, but the rest of his break will be dedicated to training.

It’s one thing to earn a spot as an undrafted player, but it’s another to keep it. As Smith said, “nothing’s guaranteed in this league.”

“As you grow in this game, every year you get a little bit better,” he said. “I think that’s kind of been the path I’ve taken my whole life … Even in the last two years, you can see that. I’m hoping to go in this summer and make improvements and come back even stronger.”

Follow Russell Vannozzi on X/Twitter @RussellV_MSP.

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