Trevor Smith is 28-years-old and entering his first season with a one-way NHL contract after touching six AHL teams since 2007-08. The Toronto Maple Leafs picked him up for a league minimum $550k which has to be a pretty great feeling for the guy, because as I understand it, that means you get 550,000 dollars.
Entering the 2009-2010 season, he was on the cusp of making the New York Islanders, and I (wrongly) wrote as much for Islanders Point Blank based on my time spent playing with him during the 2007-2008 season, and my assessment of the Isles team that year. It’s really quite difficult to make the NHL, you’ll be shocked to learn, and Smith just needed a little more time.
My biggest compliment for Trevor’s game is the same now as it was then, and leads me to believe that if given the right opportunity, he could be someone like PA Parenteau who breaks into the league a little older after some AHL seasoning, and becomes a quality contributor. (Frankly, I think had he received the opportunities of someone like Joey Crabb over the years he’d already be there, but I’m pretty biased in that view.)
That compliment: whether he realizes it or not, his ability to shoot the puck accurately and hard from seemingly anywhere in his stance was better than anyone else I’ve ever played with.
In baseball, they use “heat maps” to show where in the strike zone (or out of it) a hitter tends to have the most success. Some guys like their pitches belt-high, and some guys would rather golf it out of the dirt. The same is true for hockey. When you stay out after practice to work on one-timers with guys you learn where they like their passes: off their front foot, mid-stance, off their back foot or otherwise. Smith’s ability in those specific zones are yes, sure, fine and why not?
When most players don’t get the pass just where they like it, results vary greatly, which is often when you see a goaltender take one in the neck. Some guys (I think of the Capitals powerplay for some reason) won’t even shoot a puck that’s not properly teed up for them. They say you can’t give a good player a bad pass; if that’s true, then Trevor is one of the best. It’s funny to watch, because he’s not the best skater compared to NHL guys, but he’s like the arrows in Mario Kart that shoot you forward, only Trevor does that to the puck every time it runs through him in the offensive zone. He’s a launching pad.
Your wheelhouse size is pretty crucial, and Trevor uses his large “hit zone” to generate shots and goals. Because everything he comes across gets propelled towards the net with better speed and location than most, he’s been able to maintain a higher-than-average shooting percentage.
(I should note that he’s got really good vision and isn’t just a shooting machine. I’m just saying that when he decides to shoot, it can go in at anytime, including opportunities that appear harmless.)
When you’re dealing with someone who likely won’t get a chance in your top six, it makes a lot of sense to choose to use a shot generator with a scope. I didn’t include games played in the chart above, but he’s above two shots a night in every season aside from 07-08, where he’s awfully close. Even if that means one a night in the NHL with less opportunity, I think you’d take that given his apparently repeatable ability to fire the thing home.
It’s easy to get caught up in praising your friends when you do what I do, the same way it’s easy to overvalue the players you draft or trade for as a GM. I don’t think that Smith is suddenly going to score 20 at the NHL level, I’m just saying his fairly unique ability to rifle pucks that are nowhere near his sweet spot could be beneficial for a guy getting less ice time hoping to get off to a good start. You never know when a couple are going to catch a goalie off-guard, and you never know what a hot start can do to your coach’s opinion of you and your future opportunities.
He does a number of things well (including fishing pucks out of scrambles, which is also unique), but I think his big sweet spot is his best chance to succeed in the NHL.