OTTAWA -- Forward Zack Smith has one of the longest job descriptions on the Ottawa Senators.
Power forward. Penalty killer. Two-way player. Example.
"He's a player that is always relentless on the puck," Senators forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. "That's a word that the coach always brings in his game plan. [Smith]'s one who brings that level really high. When you see him work on the ice like that, you just want to do like him."
Smith, who had 32 points (16 goals, 16 assists) in 74 games, missed the Senators' last six regular-season games with an upper-body injury but general manager Pierre Dorion said he will be ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Smith, 29, has followed through on his breakout season in 2015-16 and made himself a key player for coach Guy Boucher. In the absence of forward Clarke MacArthur, who was expected to be a top-six left wing until a concussion in October 2015 and another in training camp in September kept him out until last week, Smith showed he could fill in as a top-six forward while also evolving into one of Ottawa's regular penalty killers.
Coming off an NHL career-high 25 goals and 36 points last season, Smith got off to a good start this season. He scored two goals against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 22 to bring his goal total to 11 in 43 games, proving last season was not a fluke.
The next day, the Senators announced they had signed him to a four-year, $13 million contract through the 2020-21 season with an annual average value of $3.5 million.
"Smitty's been a great character guy and that's why we re-signed him," Senators coach Guy Boucher said. "The players enjoy his character. They enjoy his grit. I think as a team that's one of the things this team needed, more guys like him. We want to surround our skill guys with more grit, more -- without saying grinders -- people who are able to have the skating abilities and grinding to play with the better players, but also do the dirty work."
"He's one that can hurt people with his size and his strength," Pageau said. "He's always in the gym trying to get stronger."
Smith is part of the penalty killing rotation and ranks fourth among Senators forwards in average shorthanded ice time per game at 1:57 behind Pageau (2:10), Tom Pyatt (2:06) and Chris Kelly (2:05). He is tied for second in the League in shorthanded goals with four.
"He's a big lefty on faceoffs, too, really strong," Pageau said. "That helps our penalty kill, too, to have him starting on the left side on the draws. It's really good."
Smith also ranks fifth among Senators forwards in SAT at 50.66%.
"He's a great penalty killer, but also 5-on-5 he's one of those guys who can pierce through the opponent," Boucher said. "In today's game, the neutral zone is extremely hard to get through against anybody. Everybody's got either a 1-1-3, a 1-2-2 that slanted on one side, it's very jammed. All five guys are in the neutral zone. You need guys who are able to pierce through. It's very hard to make plays and get through the natural zone unless you get an odd-man rush. You need guys who able to pierce through the opponents' wall and he's certainly one of those guys. I think those guys are absolutely one of the most important guys in your lineup."
It's good news for the Senators that they expect to have Smith back for the playoffs.
"We want him back as quick as possible, healthy," Pageau said. "He's a big difference."
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