May 17, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Brandon Sutter (16) and Ottawa Senators center Zack Smith (15) battle for position during the first period in game two of the second round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at CONSOL Energy Center. The Pittsburgh Penguins won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Making A Case For Zack Smith

As the Ottawa Senators training camp gets set to go into full swing, there is one player who seems to have become the new whipping boy, at least in my circle of social media.

It seems that centre Zack Smith, according to many fans, should be the odd man out and whenever a trade is brought up, Smith is the name that inevitably comes up.  Maybe it is because he isn’t flashy offensively, but I would caution those doubters that Smith is an integral part of the Senators team and fills a needed role that they don’t have a replacement for.

The emergence of Jean-Gabriel Pageau as a centre in the late-going of the season and playoffs in April and May has caused a contingent of fans to deem Smith expendable and trade bait for pretty much anything ranging from a bag of pucks to Ales Hemsky.

Its true, the Senators are pretty strong up the middle with Jason Spezza, Kyle Turris, Mika Zibanejad Smith and Pageau.  But of the 5, Smith is the only one who provides a consistent physical presence and is strong enough to lean on some of the bigger centres in the conference.  Zibanejad has a lot of maturing to do physically, while Turris will never be considered a strong or physical player.  Spezza has the size, but again isn’t going to be one who throws the body around.

My own personal ideal Senators lineup would have Zibanejad playing the wing with Turris and Smith playing as the third line centre.  I think Smith is ideal for the 3 hole – a big, physical player who is responsible enough defensively and can win important face-offs. He was second behind Jason Spezza in face-off percentage among Senators who took 100 or more draws.

As for offensive production, Smith has 41 points in 129 games over the past two seasons.  He started out on fire in the 2011-12 season and at one point was on pace for a 20+goal season, before cooling down and finishing with 14.  Last year his goals were down, but he was on pace for 25 points season over a full season. And that was in a season where all of the Senators were playing out of their normal roles because of the injuries. While not at the top end for a 3rd line centre, it wouldn’t be near the bottom either.

All that and his sub-$1.9M cap hit is very digestible for what he brings to the table.

Scoring isn’t everything, and although there is really nothing that stands out about Smith, there is nothing he can’t do adequately and for the money he gets paid, is more than fair value.  I understand that not everyone will see it the same way, and by no means do I think he is untouchable, but I don’t quite understand the backlash towards a guy who has the work ethic and value to the team that Smith does.

Tags: Jason Spezza Jean-Gabriel Pageau Kyle Turris Mika Zibanejad Ottawa Senators Training Camp Zack Smith

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