|Senators forward Zack Smith takes part in practice at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa. (ERROL MCGIHON/QMI Agency file photo)
As the audition for future employment in Senators-land continues, Zack Smith is being looked at in different roles.
He’s killing penalties. He’s playing the power play. And he’s emerging as a pretty decent faceoff man.
Smith has won 55% of his draws this season, second on the team only to Jason Spezza’s 56.6%. Of course, Spezza has been doing a good job in the circles all season, and currently ranks 10th in the league. Smith has spent most of his 38 games in Ottawa on the wing, but since moving to the middle, he has won 120 faceoffs while losing 98.
“It was always something my dad stressed, especially when I was young, which I think was an advantage,” said Smith. “In junior, I’d get put out in situations I wouldn’t usually get put out in because I could win the draws.
“Coaches and teammates always appreciate it, because it’s puck possession. It’s a good quality to have that I think is overlooked at times.”
When all the pieces fall in place next October, Smith will likely be the Senators’ third-line centre. Part of the reason GM Bryan Murray traded Chris Kelly was because he thought Smith could fill that role. Smith doesn’t have the hockey smarts a veteran like Kelly has yet, and the team would like to see him get faster over the summer, but Smith does have an element of grit and toughness that is appealing.
As he plays more and his confidence grows, he’s also showing off his puckhandling skills.
Coach Cory Clouston says Smith’s role hasn’t changed as he’s bounced back and forth from Binghamton to Ottawa the last couple of years.
“He’s not going to be a 40-50-goal scorer down there,” said Clouston, “but he can be very effective in his role up here.”
Smith, meanwhile, is looking to increase his minutes and his importance to the team.
“My junior career was quite similar (to) how I came up here, started out on the checking line and eventually moved on to the power play,” he said of his recent opportunity in man-advantage situations. “A guy who can win a draw, stand in front of the net and be a big body. Sometimes you may not need to be the most skilled guy to be out there. Look at other guys around the league who are big guys, stand in front of the net and in battles. That helps too.
“It’s a great opportunity they’re giving me. It’s nice they trust you in those situations. They’re giving lots of young guys a chance to see where they fit in. Hopefully, I can take advantage of it. Who knows what it’s going to look like next year? Hopefully, I can establish myself now.”