Coming in at #11 on our countdown of the best players in the Ottawa Senators organization is third line grinding centre Zack Smith. This piece will be a little different because unlike many of the players on this list thus far, Zack is a player we are all very familiar with, having got the chance to watch him play and make his mark on the big club.
Now it would be impossible to beat Mark's love affair piece from last spring's list (which found Zack at #8), so I won't even try. I'll just stick to the facts as we know them since last spring, to see what's changed.
Zack Smith has now played 160 games in the NHL (time flies, eh?) and has found his niche in the bottom six of the Ottawa Senators. He brings size, grit (for Adnan), physicality and a touch of offence to the bottom six forward group and he has become a very dependable player.
He does a lot of little things very well. So far this season, he is second to only Jason Spezza in face-off percentage, winning more than 56% of his draws, many of them shorthanded and many of them in the defensive zone. He is averaging 13:30 minutes of ice per game and isn't afraid to shoot the puck or take the body, finishing 5th last year on the team with 168 hits.
Now, why has he fallen? Well, aside from another draft happening since the last time we did this series, its becoming apparent that Zack's offensive upside is likely quite limited. There is a reason why players like Peter Regin and potentially Stephane Da Costa will get chances at the second line centre spot before Zack, and the reason is, for all the things he does well, Smith is not a particularly creative offensive player.
Now, his 14 goals last season were a career high, but almost all of them were in the first part of the season, and its been a long time now since we've seen consistent offensive production from him. But that is ok, under MacLean Smith's role has been quite clearly defined and he seems to be performing very well in it. Certainly, the strength of Smith as a penalty killing, defensive forward has allowed the team to thrive in the post Chris Kelly, Mike Fisher days.
The organization is so high of Zack that they locked him up this summer, signing him to a 4 year extension worth a shade over $7.5 million giving the Senators a really solid young defensive forward who has shown some flashes of offensive contribution. Here is what GM Bryan Murray had to say upon signing Zack this summer:
"It’s hard to find good young NHL players and when you get them, you want to make sure you have them for term if at all possible," said Senators GM Bryan Murray. "It allows us to have another good young player to build around."
With a reasonable contract and some really dependable play, looks like Smith will be a Senator for the foreseeable future, and while he may not give a crap, I think that is a great thing for the Senators.