OTTAWA — Zack Smith has been making the most of his offensive opportunities with the Ottawa Senators, but general manager Pierre Dorion is happy the forward has kept some of his checking-line edge.
The Senators signed Smith to a four-year contract extension worth US$13 million on Monday. Dorion lauded Smith's ability to score big goals, but also pointed to some of Smith's less glamorous qualities as reasons he earned a deal worth $3.25 million per year.
"Any time there's a scrum he punched people in the head. I like that," Dorion said Monday on a conference call. "Our penalty killing has improved a lot this year. A lot of that goes on our coaching staff but a lot of it goes on our players, and Zack is an important part of our penalty kill."
Smith set career highs with 25 goals and 36 points last season after being given more opportunities on the Senators' top two lines and power play. The 28-year-old is on pace to set a new career standard with 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 43 games, including two goals in Ottawa's wild 7-6 overtime loss to Columbus on Sunday.
"Zack had 25 goals last year, and I think the way he's playing this season is not a fluke," Dorion said.
Smith paid his dues in the American Hockey League, helping the Binghamton Senators win a Calder Cup in 2011. He was then primarily used as a checker before being given more responsibility last season. This season he's averaging a career-high 16 minutes 13 seconds per game.
"Being able to crawl out of that pigeon-hole that I was in, labelled as a third- or fourth-line checker guy, it was nice to get that opportunity and show that I had more of an offensive side," Smith said.
The Senators entered Monday's action in second place in the Atlantic Division and looked poised for a playoff run after starting the second half of their season by sweeping a three-game road trip and getting a hard-fought point against at home a powerful Columbus team.
"The biggest selling point is the direction the team is going," Smith said. "To have a competitive team that can play and beat the best teams in the league, that's a big part to me is the future going forward.
A six-foot-two, 209-pound native of Maple Creek, Sask., Smith has 75 goals, 61 assists and 530 penalty minutes in 443 NHL games, all with the Senators.
Smith was Ottawa's third-round pick (79th overall) in the 2008 NHL Draft.