|Zack Smith's playoff experience, combined with an ensuing summer of hard work, should go a long way toward helping him contend for a roster spot at Senators training camp in September (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images).
More than perhaps ever before, it has been an off-season filled with purpose.
Every step he takes, every workout he puts himself through ... Zack Smith
does it all with a singular focus. With one defined goal he's determined to reach always right in front of mind.
"My goal is to make the team out of camp," said Smith, the Ottawa Senators' third-round pick (79th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. "I fell short last year — I didn't feel I had the best camp — but it was a good learning experience. It gave me an idea about what I have to do this year."
Already, the 22-year-old native of Maple Creek, Sask., is making it clear he'll do anything and everything to get him closer to that goal. Even though he's been through two previous Senators development camps, he requested the opportunity to attend a third earlier this month. It was one more sign of his commitment toward his goal.
"Zack is one of the guys who wanted to be here," said Randy Lee, the Senators' director of player development and hockey administration. "He wants to improve ... he's set his mind on making our team (in September). Zack's a guy that wants to be a real player, he wants to be a dominant player and he wants to be an important player on our team.
"So he's willing to do whatever it takes."
Smith quickly emerged as one of the leaders at the camp. He sees plenty of value in all the work, both on ice and off, that is required of all the prospects who attend it.
"It's good to see where you are and where you expect to be at the next camp," said Smith. "We do testing and stuff like that ... pretty much anything to do with conditioning and workouts. I train in Maple Creek, my hometown, during the summer. But it's nice to come in here. You can't get that calibre of skating back home, especially with that many guys in one group."
"I have to play my game. That's one thing I didn't do coming into the last camp. I put a lot more pressure on myself to make the team. I wasn't myself and I didn't play the game I was supposed to play. But I thought I finished strong in the playoffs last year and learned a lot from that. I want to use that momentum going into the next camp and I definitely have the confidence." - Zack Smith
Since the 2009-10 season ended, Smith has talked with both Senators head coach Cory Clouston and Chris Schwarz, the team's strength and conditioning coach, about "where I have to be" come training camp. His development curve is still a work in progress.
"He's still got to get stronger," Lee said of the young forward. "He's still got to work on some flexibility issues. He's trying to get quicker on the ice. I think one of the big adjustments he made last year is that he was quicker off the mark, and he's even better this year."
When training camp does arrive in mid-September, Smith knows exactly what he has to do.
"I have to play my game," he said. "That's one thing I didn't do coming into the last camp. I put a lot more pressure on myself to make the team. I wasn't myself and I didn't play the game I was supposed to play.
"But I thought I finished strong in the playoffs last year and learned a lot from that. I want to use that momentum going into the next camp and I definitely have the confidence."
Indeed, there was no bigger booster in the latter area than the six games he played against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. After a late-season callup from the Binghamton Senators, Smith played regular minutes throughout the entire series against the defending Cup champs.
"Looking back, it was probably the biggest step," he said. "To know I can play at that level was pretty cool. It's a confidence builder. It helps you get to the next level and take that next step."