Many NHL teams would relish the idea of their third or fourth line forward scoring 25 goals in a season- and the Senators got exactly that last season from their third line forward, Zack Smith. Smith capitalized on a vacant top-six role with the club after long-term injuries knocked some regulars out of the lineup. Smith concluded the 2015-16 season with a career-high 36 points, 25 of those being goals. In fact, in the seven previous seasons playing for the Senators, the 79th overall selection in the 2008 Draft never broke the 20 goal plateau in a single season. The closest he got was 14 goals in the 2011-12 season.
Zack Smith hits the 25-goal season. This ranks near the top of most surprising individual seasons in Sens history.
— Ian Mendes (@ian_mendes) April 9, 2016
Sniper on the Loose?
Until the 2015-16 season, fans saw Smith mainly as a depth, checking forward on the third or fourth line, versatile in either center or the wing. His value to the team is being a good face-off guy- posting a career 51.2% face-off win percentage on the dot- and his strong, physical presence- last season he finished third in hits on the team, with 175 respectively. These are necessary traits to have on any roster, and this is Smith’s role for the Senators.
Reflecting on Smith’s 2007-08 draft year with the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL, he was just shy of a point-per-game pace with 79 points in 84 regular season and playoff games. This breakout season helped Smith get noticed at the draft, catching the eyes of the Senators. In his first season with the Binghamton Senators, Smith continued sound offensive production with 48 points (24 goals, 24 assists) in 79 games. Since then, the Maple Creek, Saskatchewan native has seen his goal scoring production dip in the AHL, notching just 29 goals in 113 games during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. His scoring touch did not materialize again until last season in the NHL when he pumped 25 in the net for Ottawa.
A Sign of Things to Come?
The question every Senators fan should be asking is, “Can Zack Smith repeat his 25 goal season from last year?” History would suggest that the 6’2″, 209-pound winger will be more like the Zack Smith of the past this upcoming season, as Clarke MacArthur returns from injury and Derick Brassard enters the lineup as a sound top-six forward. It is unlikely he will see the same minutes as last season with the offensively minded players on the top lines, unless unforeseen injuries strike again. As per statistics compiled by HockeyAnalysis.com, Smith’s most frequent linemates for 2015-16 were Mark Stone and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Stone, coming off consecutive 20 plus goal seasons, and Pageau, who scored a career-high 19 goals last season for the Sens, benefited from great line chemistry and their hard work ethic.
“A lot of it has to do with the guys that I’m playing with. I’ve had a lot of success with Pageau and Stone. Pageau is a very similar player to me and in that way we play well together. And I think Stone has got arguably the best stick in the league and he’s going to get you those chances.” Smith told the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch, March 11, 2016
HockeyAnalysis.com tracked Smith’s linemates going back to when he started playing a full-time role with the Senators. It reveals there has always been one constant: Chris Neil. Being on a line with Chris Neil shows that Smith’s role was to play a physical role in the bottom-six, a role that traditionally does not provide significant offense on the score sheet.
It is unlikely that Smith will be put on a line with Stone this season, and barring any injuries to the Senators top-six group, Smith will most likely slot in the bottom-six forward group once again. This role will see him playing a more checking position, with similar type players, players that aren’t as offensively minded. However, if there is a lesson for management and the coaching staff to take from the 2015-16 season is that if there are injuries to the Senators first two lines, Zack Smith is capable of generating offense when it’s needed.