PHOENIX - When goaltending coach Sean Burke was doing his due diligence on free-agent Mike Smith, whom the Phoenix Coyotes were thinking of signing, he picked up the telephone.
Burke called former NHLer Gary Roberts, a nutrition and fitness guru to a growing number of NHL players, including Smith.
Burke heard something that was pretty remarkable.
"(Roberts) said he was the second-best athlete he had next to Steve Stamkos," Burke said.
That is high praise given that the Tampa Bay Lightning's Stamkos has earned a reputation as a workout beast.
Talk to scouts and they'll tell you Smith's greatest strength is his athleticism.
Indeed, Smith was an outstanding fastball player as a teenager, representing Canada at the world championship and winning two national and seven Ontario championships while playing for the Central Frontenac Cyclones as a catcher.
"I was one of those guys who didn't like to sit still," Smith said. "I liked to be in the outdoors and playing a lot of different sports." Smith's athleticism is what piqued the interest of Burke and Coyotes general manager Don Maloney who needed a new goaltender after trading the rights to free-agent Ilya Bryzgalov to the Philadelphia Flyers in June.
"We watched a lot of video of (Smith)," Maloney said. "You could see he could make that outstanding save. Even in the playoffs last year, that one game in Boston he was excellent. But to do it over 65 to 70 times a year, that's the key. I remember the first few days in training camp with us he was all over the place, it was pure athleticism."
But Maloney was enthused, having seen what Burke had accomplished with Bryzgalov.
"After watching Mike, you're not going to change his style, but if we could just tweak it so it's a bit more under control," Maloney said. "And with his size and athletic ability, we thought it should work. You hope it works. He has been terrific, obviously."