Zack Smith is coming off a career 25-goal season in 2015-16. Many in the hockey world were wondering if the gritty forward could replicate that performance this season under new head coach, Guy Boucher. In the early part of 2016-17, he’s showing he can as he’s off to a great start with eight goals and seven assists — a pace that means a 20-goal season isn’t out of the question.
Seizing an Opportunity
The Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, native was given a chance to play in Ottawa’s top six alongside Derick Brassard and Mark Stone while forward Mike Hoffman was serving a two-game suspension. Smith seized this opportunity and forced Boucher to keep him on that line when Hoffman returned from suspension. Playing with his new linemates, Smith has seen an increase in offensive production with seven points in five games played. Prior to playing on a line with Stone and Brassard, Smith had eight points in 30 games played. Being placed higher in the lineup has clearly benefited Smith.
He is currently out of the lineup with an upper-body injury, forcing Boucher to juggle his lines. Boucher placed Tom Pyatt in Smith’s place, playing with Brassard and Stone. While taking Smith’s place, Pyatt didn’t have any points against the Detroit Red Wings. All indications are that Smith will not be missing a lot of time and when he returns he should be back on a line with Brassard and Stone.
A Trusted Player
While Smith doesn’t play a flashy game, he certainly brings a level of compete night in and night out, which is translating onto the score sheet. The Senators forward has earned Boucher’s trust to play in all situations, despite not having a power play point to date this season, but leads the team in shorthanded goals with two on the year.
The distribution of ice time can provide a lot of insight into the coach’s trust of a player. Smith is currently ranked 10th on the team for time in ice per game in all situations at 15:58, higher than both Bobby Ryan and Ryan Dzingel. This may be in part to the fact that Ryan and Dzingel don’t usually play on the penalty kill, but still indicates the level of trust Boucher has in Smith to play a complete game.
Zack Smith. Underrated speed and hands.
— Steve Lloyd (@TSNSteveLloyd) December 19, 2016
Zack Smith is in the final year of his contract and is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2016-17 season. As the season progresses and Zack Smith inches towards the 20-goal mark, Smith should be getting a raise from his current $1,887,500 average annual value (AAV), whether that is with the Senators or with another NHL team.
Given the fact that Smith can generate offence, contribute on the power play and penalty kill and plays a physical game, signing him should be a priority for general manager Pierre Dorion sooner rather than later. However, if the Senators decide not to sign Smith, there is no question that there will be a market for him on July 1, 2017.