Heralded rookie, Craig Smith is doing everything that he can do to make this year's Nashville Predator roster. In contrast, Colin Wilson who is 45 days younger, is headed into his third year with the Preds and seeking to gain consistency that has eluded him at times in his 117 game NHL career.
Both players were instrumental in the Predators 4-1 preseason win over the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night at the Bridgestone Arena that pushed the team's record to 5-1 in the exhibition season.
Wilson showed brilliance at both end of the ice in scoring the Predators first goal to tie the game 1-1, 13:52 into the opening period. On defense, he salvaged a weak break out pass from Kevin Klein at one end of the ice and then trailed David Legwand the length of the ice to put the puck in the Caps net for the tying goal.
Wilson explained the play, "The other team got the puck, I was already coming back so I lifted the guys stick and made the play to Bergfors and he slid it over to Leggy and I was following him in the wake and made a quick move with the forehand."
For the game, Wilson had the one goal on three shots in 14:51 minutes of play.
Smith was put to the test by being placed on the Predators' top line, centering Marty Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn. "I was thrown on the power play and on one of the top lines so I definitely had opportunities to score so I tried to bear down and put them in."
"It was easy to play with Marty and Kostitsyn. I don't want to put too much stress on myself just because I'm playing with great players. I had a lot of fun and we had some good chances."
The rookie had two assists, a team high five shots and logged 4:28 of power play time in his first appearance on home ice.
"It was a great learning experience. They've been around the league for a while so I try to pick up as much as I can from them," Smith explained.
Wilson and Smith have not crossed paths much before this year and were never opponents. Interestingly, both Wilson and Smith played two years of University hockey and then had the rare chance to play in the World Championships during the Spring before signing their initial contracts with the Preds.
The two have shared their experiences with each other. Wilson said, "I know quite a few players that he played with at Wisconsin and at the World championships so we've talked about that. We've also talked about the college hockey game so we definitely have a few things to relate to each other,"
Smith related, "He played college and I played college. I know he is a good player and has done well here so far. He's a young guy like me so I'm going to try to follow in his steps."
Barry Trotz compared the young players, "They both had good games but they are almost polar opposites. Smith is almost pure speed and he's got a real good skill level."
"Willie's got deceptive speed. He's not as smooth and polished in his skating but he is a powerful man who can do a lot of different things. He's got a lot of deception to his game and has real quick hands, both of them do."
Trotz continued, "They both have matured, with Smith at Wisconsin and Willie with us as a young player. If you look at the couple of guys that are creating those good offensive chances, they are both young players so that bodes well for us."
Also scoring for the Predators was Matt Halischuk, Shea Weber, and Cal O'Reilly with a late power play goal. The Capitals' lone tally came from Mathieu Perreault early in the game.
Pekka Rinne picked up his second preseason win stopping 23 of 24 Caps' shots. Ex-Predator, Tomas Vokoun allowed four goals on 27 shots while going the distance in net for Washington.
The Predators will leave for Winnipeg at 9 a.m on Thursday morning and play the Jets in a rematch of last Saturday's contest at 6 p.m. on Friday.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOntheGlass