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Prospects Unlimited: Jets pick Smith hits the ground running to start college career

A swift-skating center, Nathan Smith has made a habit of starting strong when he makes his debut at the next level.
Minnesota State Athletics

Minnesota State Athletics

Nathan Smith knows a thing or two about putting his best foot forward. It was two years ago, during his weekend debut with USHL Cedar Rapids, that Smith broke into the junior scene with a one-goal, four-point effort across his first two games, marking the beginning of a successful two-season stay in the league.

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But having moved on to the NCAA, Smith did his USHL debut one better. In his first outing with Minnesota State in mid-October – and on the day he celebrated his 21st birthday, no less – Smith replicated his one-goal, four-point performance in a single outing against rival North Dakota. “It’s nice to start that way,” Smith said. “But I’m not going to get too high or too low. Just gotta stay neutral. It’s a long season, so hopefully things go like that, but it’s never like that. You’ve got to stay on an even keel and play your game every night.”

For the native of Tampa, Fla., that game is based on a couple of basic tenets. First, Smith, a center who stands six-foot and 180 pounds, uses his swift and agile skating to his advantage. Second, he relies on his vision, passing and playmaking to poke holes in the opposition’s coverage. But as with any young player, Smith, whom the Jets drafted 91st overall in 2018, knows there’s room for growth.

As a pivot, he wants to become more well-rounded, which begins with improving his coverage in the defensive zone. But Smith also wants to develop a comfortability and effectiveness on the wing. Essentially, his goal is to become a versatile forward who can hop over the boards and plug any hole. “The more positions you can play, the more options coaches have to put you in different places,” Smith said. “The more places you can play, the better off you’re going to be.”

It will likely take some time before Smith makes the leap from the NCAA to the NHL. And while the Mavericks, one of the collegiate circuit’s top teams, begin their pursuit of a national title, Winnipeg will be patiently waiting. If all goes well, maybe there’s another big debut in his future. – Jared Clinton

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