When San Jose played host to the Florida Panthers last week, the stars from the 1997 NHL Entry Draft were aligned as the first four picks - Joe Thornton
, Patrick Marleau
, Olie Jokinen and Roberto Luongo - skated in the contest. However, it was the 219th pick from that year, Mark Smith, who scored two goals, including the game-winner.
Smith may not steal the spotlight from the Sharks one-two punch of Marleau and Thornton very often, but he still plays a strong roll for the organization.
Whoever is paired with Smith is expected to provide some form of spark and give everything they have every shift.
“Our job is to come in and work hard every day and every shift,” said Smith. “When we were in a slump, guys needed to step up who usually don’t score. That is what can get the guys who are used to scoring back on track.”
Forty goals is a high mark for any NHLer, but that still only has the league’s top producers scoring every other game.
“If we can score, it is a huge lift for morale,” said Smith.
The high-profile players know how important Smith is.
“Guys like Smitty are huge,” said Marleau. “You look at the good teams and their scoring is spread out. You have to get good goals from each line.”
And when the checking line plugs in a goal or two, there can be some additional rewards besides the slap on the back. Following the two-goal performance against Florida, Smith found himself with a little power play time.
“(Sharks Head Coach) Ron (Wilson) is good at rewarding us when we do things right,” said Smith. “He gives us the odd power play shift.”
Smith acknowledges that a power play with his line out there might run a little different than the Marleau and Thornton show.
“A power play is more or less outworking people,” said Smith. “You’re outmanning them and you have to win the battles. We might not get the tic-tac-toe goals, but we might grind one in.”
Smith plays every shift so hard because throughout his career, he never knew if it would be his last.
“Every team I’ve been on, I made it on the last cut,” said Smith. “I was lucky they took me. Even in Bantam, I was the last guy to make the team. Then I worked my way up.”
Smith knows that being a ninth rounder, he won’t ever be the poster child for a franchise.
“If you’re not rated one, two or three as a prospect, you really have to earn your stripes,” said Smith. “It builds character. You have to be thankful for everything.”
Smith finally found a full-time home in San Jose during his third NHL campaign.
“I think in my third year, when we were struggling, I got my best chance,” said Smith. “The second half of the year, I played with Adam Graves and it went well. That allowed me to have the confidence in my own end and I quit playing nervous.”
Smith’s role has expanded a bit more this year as well.
“Smitty went to Ron and asked for a bigger role,” said Sharks Assistant Coach Tim Hunter. “He didn’t want to be in and out every game. Ron gave him more responsibilities and he’s seemed to benefit. He showed he is a better player than we thought.
“He has very deceptive speed and is one of the fastest skaters on our team. He also has a lot more skill than people give him credit for. The biggest thing is he keeps his game simple and it goes back to him being a gritty, grinding energy player who plays every shift. We as coaches enjoy seeing it and we know the fans do too.”
And Smith’s role could expand further in the future.
“He continues to get better and we’re excited to see that,” said Hunter. “He’s vocal and brings a lot of enthusiasm. It’s a game and he knows how to have fun and keep the guys alert. He fits in with whoever he’s with.”
Smith can be just as effective sitting on the bench or in the lockerroom.
“He’s definitely a guy you want in the room,” said Marleau. “He talks a lot and keeps guys loose. He goes against a lot of offensive forwards and everyone knows how hard he is working. Smitty is an energy guy and he helps by just being him.”
Maybe the biggest question surrounding Smith though what color will he next dye his hair. He’s dashed it with blue, orange and green to date, but another change could be right around the corner. However, he won’t reveal the color in advance.
“I have to keep people guessing,” laughed Smith.
San Jose’s bruising right wing, Scott Parker, has played just briefly this season after suffering from head and sinus problems. Now he is zeroing in on a return.
“There is a good chance he could be in Anaheim,” said Wilson.
SETOGUCH AND VLASIC CUT
Sharks prospects Devin Setoguchi and Marc-Edouard Vlasic
were both cut from Team Canada’s World Junior Team.
The move wasn’t a complete surprise as Team Canada has very few returning players from last year’s entry and many articles referenced their desire for an older team to make up for the lack of international experience. Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson was not overly concerned.
“They are now in good company,” said Wilson. “Jonathan Cheechoo and Scott Hannan didn’t make it either. The can use this for motivation.”
Both Setoguchi and Vlasic are young enough that they will be eligible to play in the 2007 World Junior Tournament for Canada.