Talk to people about Dallas Stars prospect Gemel Smith and one word comes up often – determination. Smith’s GM in junior hockey, Dale DeGray of the Ontario Hockey League’s Owen Sound Attack, likes to call it dogged determination.
|Gemel Smith meets with the media after being selected by Dallas at the draft
“I used to tell scouts, ‘watch him go into the corner against two guys or three guys, and I’ll put my money on him coming out with the puck,’” DeGray said. “And that dogged determination shows up on his backcheck. He’ll strip guys from back pressure all the time. It’s impressive.”
DeGray and his staff saw a lot more to Smith, a center, when they took him in the sixth round of the 2010 OHL Draft.
“He was an undersized guy that was a dimensional skater, he was an unbelievably quick kid with high skills,” said DeGray.
Speed, skill and determination are great assets when you aren’t one of the bigger guys on the ice. The 18-year-old Smith, who is listed at 5-10, 164 pounds, doesn’t let that lack of size deter him. He’s doesn’t shy away from those so-called dirty areas of the ice.
“I’m a gritty player. I like to get in guys’ faces,” said Smith, a native of Toronto. “I like to get in there. I’m a smaller guy and guys think I don’t like to get in there, but I like to hit, I like to be physical.”
And he makes the most of that speed.
“When you are going in there against bigger guys, it is something they hate. One of the biggest things they hate is speed,” said Smith. “You are not going to go strength-on-strength with a bigger guy, so I use speed to make up for size.”
Smith’s speed and hard-nosed style of play were mentioned often in scouting reports leading up to this summer’s NHL Draft, where he was ranked 37th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. International Scouting Services ranked him 59th overall, and listed him among the “sleepers” in the draft. The Stars selected Smith in the fourth round (104th overall).
“People think he is small, but he plays a real spirited offensive game,” said Les Jackson, Dallas Stars Director of Player Personnel. “He’s slippery, crafty and plays with a lot of passion. I suspect he is going to find a way to make it hard on our team down the road to keep him off. He just plays a real determined game, and he’s talented.”
But for all the determination and talent, sometimes a player needs a break or a little help along the way. In the case of Smith, enter Stars defenseman Trevor Daley. He pitched in with some equipment for Smith, whose parents had a hard time coming up with the money to buy hockey gear for Smith and his siblings.
“(Daley) and my coach were really close. At the time I had three brothers playing hockey, so it was kind of hard for my parents to afford everything,” said Smith. “My coach gave him a call and asked if there was anything he could lend me. He gave some stuff, skates, shoulder pads and things like that. I really appreciated it from him.”
“I’m the type of guy that if I can help out anybody, I am more than willing to,” said Daley. “When you play this sport, it’s expensive. It’s not like you just go out on a field and do it. It does take a lot of resources to play hockey. I’m in a position where I am able to help out, and I try to when I can.”
And Smith has made the most of Daley’s generosity. The left-shot center has put together a nice resume. He was a part of Owen Sound’s 2010-11 OHL championship team, and played in the 2011 Memorial Cup. He won a gold medal with Canada at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. And he took home a bronze medal with Canada at the 2012 World Under-18 Championship.
Not bad for that sixth-round pick in the 2010 OHL Draft.
“He came to that camp that year and it was just that dogged determination that he has, and his willingness that he has to be a little guy and still compete, go in the corners and just be one of those guys,” said DeGray. “He sold himself on us right away.”
Making the Owen Sound team was a major turning point for Smith.
“I came in as a sixth round pick and I wasn’t really supposed to make it,” Smith said. “That’s when I knew I really had a big chance.”
As an OHL rookie, a 16-year-old Smith suited up in 66 of 68 games in 2010-11 and picked up 16 points (8 goals, 8 assists) while playing on a team stacked with older players who would take the Attack to the Memorial Cup.
“His minutes were lessened because of that. But if our top line missed a forward or a centerman, he could fill in on a top line without even missing a beat,” said DeGray. “That’s what he was for us, he was a fourth line player as a 16-year-old, who filled in on any of the lines at any time, and we didn’t miss a beat. That’s how good he was as a 16-year-old.”
He played in 21 of 22 playoff games during the Attack’s march to the OHL title and its first ever trip to the Memorial Cup. This past season he had a breakout campaign, putting up 60 points (21 goals, 39 assists) in 68 games for Owen Sound. DeGray expects bigger things this season.
“He’s a top-six forward on any team in the league,” DeGray said. “Do I see him getting a point-a-game-plus, without putting pressure on him? Yeah, I do. He’s that guy. He can kill penalties, play power play and he’ll play extra minutes. He’s very good in his own end. He has a very good understanding of defensive hockey.”
For Smith, it’s all about being a complete player. He believes that is his ticket to advancing his hockey career.
“I like to do everything,” said Smith. “I like to be a two-way player because that is where hockey players are really made.”
There’s more work to be done. He needs to add some size and strength. His offensive skills need honing as well.
The Stars’ recent development camp was a chance for Smith to work on his skills, get strength and conditioning tips, learn the ins and outs of what it will take to be a pro and to get acclimated to the organization. It also was a chance to spend some time with Daley, who gets an assist for helping him get this far. But Smith’s ultimate goal, obviously, is to make it to the NHL. And to get there he knows it will take a lot of what’s helped him reach this point – determination.
“If I keep working hard and doing the right things,” Smith said, “I’ll get there.”