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Senators prospect shows he's on the rise

by Chris Yzerman / Ottawa Senators
Zack Smith never imagined he would get a shot a playing in the National Hockey League during his rookie season as a member of the Senators organization (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images).

Zack Smith can remember a time — not all that long ago — when he wondered what he’d be doing after his junior hockey career came to an end.

It’s funny how a little bit more time and a lot of development can make those worries go away.
These days, he’s considered one of the top prospects in the Ottawa Senators organization.

“A year ago, I didn’t expect to have played in the NHL (by now),” said the Binghamton Senators centre. “Going into the WHL, after my first and second year, I wasn’t too sure what I was going to do after the WHL.”

The Senators selected Smith in the third round (79th overall) from the Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos last June, after he’d been passed over in his first two years of draft eligibility.

Five months later, he was already making his NHL debut.

“It was pretty surprising,” Smith, who turns 21 in April, said of facing the New York Islanders on Nov. 29.

“I didn’t expect to play in the NHL that quick.”

The Senators likely didn’t, either, but it was just rewards for a player who impressed the team’s management so much during training camp that he was the final player cut from the big-league squad.

But then again, surprising people, including himself, is nothing new to the native of Maple Creek, Sask. He cracked the Broncos lineup in 2004-05 with neither great size nor skill, managing just one goal and two points in 14 games during his first year.

He said the backing of his family — Smith is the youngest of four siblings, including three older sisters — and good coaching in Swift Current helped push him to the point that by his fourth season, he’d shot up in size and stature to be the Broncos captain and leading scorer.

“Not a lot of people had a lot of confidence in me to get this far,” he said. “I do consider myself a late bloomer.”

That was good news for the Senators as he’d flown under the radar of other NHL clubs and they were able to snatch him up come draft time.

Scouts were impressed with his raw strength and toughness and his ability to play in all situations, not to mention his work ethic and attitude.

In Binghamton, he got off to a quick start under coach Cory Clouston and formed the B-Sens’ top line with Ilya Zubov and Ryan Shannon, who also have seen NHL time this season.

At 6-foot-2 and around 200 pounds, Smith can bang bodies and mix it up in high-traffic areas in ways that impress his teammates.

"I'm more of an energy player. I've gotten more confident with the offensive bit. I've started to develop the little parts of the game. I've put up some numbers. That's the bonus. The main part of my game is energy. Every team needs guys like that." - Zack Smith
“He’s a big, strong kid. He protects pucks really well. He got to the net, found loose pucks, was strong on the wall,” said Shannon, adding the humble Smith “has a bright future.” 

What’s made Smith even more of a diamond in the rough is that he’s also flashed a good scoring touch and playmaking abilities.

“I don’t think Ottawa drafted me for that style of play,” he said. “I’m more of an energy player. I’ve gotten more confident with the offensive bit. I’ve started to develop the little parts of the game.

“I’ve put up some numbers. That’s the bonus. The main part of my game is energy. Every team needs guys like that.”

Clouston, now the head coach in Ottawa, said he’d like to see more consistency out of Smith. But there’s a good chance Senators fans will soon be seeing more of him on a regular basis.

“He’s a big body, he’s strong, his skating needs work, but he’s definitely a guy that we’ll look to, that’s for sure,” Clouston said.

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