The unexpected rise of Zack Smith

TORONTO - NOVEMBER 2: Zack Smith #15 of the Ottawa Senators shoots during warm-ups before NHL action against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre November 2 2010 in Toronto Ontario Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

The 2008 NHL Entry Draft will always be best remembered for Bryan Murray's "garbage pick" at 15th overall. However, a couple of rounds later, he made another pick that is panning out better than anyone could have expected: Zack Smith. Smith was selected in the third round, 79th overall during the 2008 Draft, and has proven to be a very shrewd pick by Murray. One has to remember that Smith was already in his third draft eligible year by 2008, and a full two years older than Erik Karlsson was during the 2008 Draft. It's usually hard to get excited about picking an overage grinder, but given the results Smith has already produced, one can't help but be impressed.

Since breaking out in the WHL, the man known around these parts as Z. Smith has done nothing but exceed all expectations. Would you expect someone to play in the AHL Calder Cup playoffs before being drafted? No, but Z. Smith did for the Manitoba Moose anyways, without any previous pro hockey experience. Would you expect his first NHL goal to be a short-handed snipe that beat one of the best goalies in the world? No, but that's how he did it. Would you expect someone selected in the third round to play in the NHL playoffs just two years later? Probably not, but Z. Smith did anyway, playing in all 6 of Ottawa's playoff games in 2010. Last year, he played 100 games between the AHL and NHL, and was third in points on the Calder Cup winning Binghamton Senators.

Yeah, not bad for an overage kid picked in the third round. And the best part? He just keeps getting better.

Even though he was only draft a few years ago, Z. Smith has already become an important part of the Ottawa Senators, and with each year he seems to make huge strides. Right now, he may be playing the best hockey of his life. When he isn't having headshots taken with black eyes, Z. Smith is second only to Erik Condra among forwards in short-handed time on ice, and is second on the Senators in faceoffs taken (and his 55% faceoff percentage looks pretty sharp, too). He's tied for fourth among forwards in points with 7 (that's more than Nick Foligno and Stéphane Da Costa), and he has the best plus/minus on the team at +3. He leads forwards in other, less noticeable categories as well, such as blocked shots (15) and penalties drawn per 60 minutes (2.5). This is in addition to the other factors that make him such a valuable player on the Ottawa Senators, such as his toughness, energy, and willingness to drop the gloves to raise his teammates' (and fans') spirits.

Is he perfect? No. He still takes too many dumb penalties, and his offensive skills do need a bit of work. Nonetheless, his consistent improvement is nothing short of astonishing, and at just 23 years of age, you have to imagine he'll continue to improve for a few more years. Looking back at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft reveals just how good of a pick Zack Smith was at 79th overall -- of players selected after the first round in 2008, only two have played more NHL games than Zack Smith, and one of them was selected in the second round. He's come a long way already, and it'll be exciting to see where he goes from here.

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