The life of a 4th line center in the National Hockey League isn’t exactly one of glamour. You don’t get a lot of ice time and when you do, it’s generally to kill penalties, throw your body around or ‘provide energy.’ You don’t pile up the points because the wingers on your line aren’t exactly Patrick Kane or Thomas Vanek. Reporters aren’t flocked around your dressing stall after every game, wanting your input on just happened. In spite of that, it doesn’t diminish the value they add to a team. Case in point: Florida Panthers 4th line center Jerred Smithson.
Smithson was a trade deadline afterthought when he was acquired by the Panthers in February 2012 from the Nashville Predators but, he’s entrenched himself on Florida’s fourth line since arriving. While Panthers fans were underwhelmed with his acquisition, hoping for more scoring options instead, he’s proven to be a valuable contributor in the areas that often get looked over in box scores.
With a limit on high end ‘skill’ players in the league, many players are left with having to find a niche to carve out for themselves to stay employed. Some guys fight their way to a long pro career. Some guys make a living just for their abilities on the power play. Some stick because of a history of playing well in the playoffs. Smithson, however, found his niche by winning face offs and playing defense.
This season, Samithson has spent 2:18 of his 10:45 a night killing of penalties, the second most of any Florida forward (Marcel Goc is first) while winning 51 percent of shorthanded face offs. In all situation, he leads all Panthers regulars, he leads all in face off percentage with 55.4%. The ability to be successful on the dot is something he strives to achieve:
“I expect that from myself. As being a professional, you have to be ready whether you’re playing 20 minutes or five minutes. You have to be ready when you’re called upon and do what you do best. I’ve got to be ready for those draws no matter what time of the game it is. That’s something I take a lot of pride in. It’s just something I’ve been working on for a long time.”
If there’s anything the Panthers have learned over the past couple of weeks, it’s the importance of winning a draw in your own end. Four times over the last handful of games, Florida has allowed a goal within five seconds of losing a draw in their own end. One of them, Alex Ovechkin’s goal on 2/12 allowed the Caps to tie the game with less than three minutes remaining, costing the Panthers an extra point in the standings. It also came on a game where Smithson was scratched and sitting in the press box in a situation that Coach Kevin Dineen probably would have used him. It’s those little plays that add up and can either win or lose the game and it was never more evident than on that night.
If you’re looking for simply offensive statistics, you’re looking at the wrong guy (he topped out at 16 points for the Preds in 2007-08). But, his skill set is certainly valuable to the Panthers. At 34, one would surmise that there are still a few more years left for him. He’s in the final year of his two year contract that pays him $800,000. While the organizational depth down the middle is at an all-time high for Florida, there should still be a place in the next couple of seasons for him on the fourth line.
Here’s Smithson doing what he does best:
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