Oshawa Generals right wing Hunter Smith is one year removed from slipping through the cracks at the 2013 NHL Draft at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
The expectations are much greater this year when the 2014 draft is held at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, June 27-28.
"I didn't expect to be drafted after the year I had [in 2012-13], so it just gave me motivation to want it more this year and clearly it has paid off," Smith said. "I wanted to prove to teams [at the NHL Scouting Combine] that even though I'm a year late I still have a lot to bring. I wanted to give them a reason to draft me and show them that I'm going to be a pro one day."
After being passed over at the 2013 draft, following a season in which he played just 30 games after sustaining a hand injury, Smith rebounded in 2013-14 with 16 goals, 40 points and 100 penalty minutes in 64 games for the Generals. He followed that up with a great postseason, generating three goals, 11 points and 25 penalty minutes in 12 OHL playoff matches.
A gifted power forward projected to be a future second-line performer, he has a propensity for dropping the gloves whenever needed to defend a teammate.
"He's made himself into a player," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said. "He came into the league as a role-type of player and worked hard to develop his skill set. He's one of the toughest guys in the Ontario Hockey League, but complements that with good puck-handling and passing ability. Big guys who are tough and skilled are very valuable in the NHL."
Smith, a 6-foot-6, 208-pound right-handed shot, made the biggest jump on NHL Central Scouting's final rankings of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2014 draft, moving 101 spots from No. 140 to No. 39 in a span of three months.
"I was surprised, but it's nice to get that recognition," Smith said. "I view it now as just a list, and at the end of the day it depends on when you get picked on draft day. Hopefully that's as high as No. 39 and, if not, I hope to make the team that drafts me very happy."
Smith is hoping to eventually earn a hockey championship of any kind. It's something that, for whatever reason, has eluded him.
"I never played on a winning team in hockey, sadly enough," he said. "I think I won one tournament growing up my whole life [in hockey]."
Growing up in Windsor, Ontario, he starred as a catcher for the Windsor South Canadians baseball program for a few years before making hockey his lifelong ambition.
"I grew up playing baseball," Smith said. "I was a big home run hitter, always hitting in the three or four hole. I think I loved baseball so much because we always won. One year we went 53-1, so we were always a championship-winning team and it was just a lot of fun. There was no better feeling than trotting the bases, but baseball has been over with now for me for about four or five years."
He admits hockey was always his true calling.
"I guess baseball was fun, but hockey is where my heart lies and one day I want to wear a [championship hockey] ring," Smith said. "That's why I'm doing what I'm doing."
His uncle, Brad Smith, was drafted in the fourth round (No. 57) by the Vancouver Canucks in 1978 and spent nine seasons in the League with the Canucks, Atlanta Flames, Calgary Flames, Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. Smith, who currently serves as director of player personnel for the Colorado Avalanche, had 28 goals, 62 points and 591 penalty minutes in 222 NHL games.
Brad offered some words of encouragement for his nephew upon his departure for the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto, May 25-31.
"He just told me to be yourself and remember where you came from," Smith said. "We talk once a month."
A second-round pick (No. 39) of the Windsor Spitfires in 2011, Smith played 15 games as a rookie before his trade to the Generals just prior to 2012-13. He'd play 30 games after sustaining a skate cut, but gained valuable experience alongside Columbus Blue Jackets forward Boone Jenner.
"Boone kind of led the way last year for me; that guy worked his tail off every game and never stopped," Smith said. "He was definitely a good leader to have in my rookie year in the OHL."
Besides rooting for Jenner, Smith is also a big fan of Maple Leafs center James van Riemsdyk.
"His play down low and in front of the net is good," Smith said of van Riemsdyk. "I watched plenty of tape on him this year; he got those goals in that tough area, and that's where I'm going to make a living out of this game, in front of the net. That's why I try to model my game after him."
What exactly does his game entail?
"I'm a big power forward, aggressive, physical," he said. "I'm not afraid and am a nice complementary player. I like to open up space for my teammates to have success."
Among all the attributes associated with Smith, "unselfish" might be his best.