The way Barry Trotz sees it, Jerred Smithson can look forward to a lengthy NHL career because the 31-year-old forward is willing to work in short bursts – the three or four seconds required to win a faceoff.
On the other hand, the Nashville Predators’ coach is running short on patience for those who are not willing to do the same.
“If you just concentrate and you compete for those three-four seconds of that puck being dropped and you win the faceoff, then you won’t be chasing it for 20 or 30 seconds,” Trotz said. “… It’s a lot more fun to start with the puck, and until a centerman understands that, he can’t be a great faceoff guy … that, ‘I need to have the puck or it’s no fun.’
“I think (ours) understand it. When you say it, it makes sense. But believing it is another thing.”
Trotz did not name any players he feels have not properly grasped the concept, but a look at this season’s current stats is revealing.
David Legwand, at 30 years old and in his 12th NHL season, has been successful just 37.6 percent of the time in the faceoff circle. Second-year pro Colin Wilson has won just 45.8 percent of the time.
Smithson, conversely, is second overall in the NHL with a 63.3 percent success rate.
“I like the challenge of going in there every night and trying to beat some of the best players,” Smithson said. “…It’s almost a game within the game. A lot of times it’s just pure grit and strength, and a lot of times it’s whether or not your technique is good.”
Among the other centers on the team, Matthew Lombardi won 60 percent, and Marcel Goc won 53.8 percent before each was sidelined by injury. Nick Spaling won 54.8 percent since being recalled six games ago.
As a team, Nashville, at 50.5 percent, was tied for 14th in the league in faceoff percentage prior to the start of play Tuesday. Its next opponent, Phoenix (9 p.m., Wednesday, Fox Sports-Tennessee) was fourth at 54.4 percent.
“People don’t put enough value in the faceoffs,” Trotz said. “Everything offensively starts with the faceoff. Everything defensively starts with the faceoff. If you don’t win the faceoff, you’re defending. To me, it’s technique a little bit. But I think technique is only about 20 percent. The competitive factor is probably like 80 percent – maybe 30:70.”
Smithson won at least half of his draws in nine of the 10 games this season. The one exception was Oct. 13 at Chicago, and in each of the next four games he won more than 63 percent.
Now in his sixth season with Nashville he plays on the wing more often than at center but nonetheless steps to the dot in many key situations. He has won at least 52 percent of his draws every season.
“It’s something I’ve worked at for a while now – anything that can kind of keep me around,” Smithson, who never was drafted, said. “I want to be out there as much as I can whether it’s penalty kill or a faceoff situation – anything like that. I’ve still got a lot of work to do with it, and I realize that.”
The way he’s going he has every reason to look forward to many more years of gainful employment.
“Smitty is doing a great job this year,” Trotz said. “I told him, ‘You have to be a great penalty killer and the best faceoff guy in the league’ or at least in the top two.
“They always have jobs in this league for the best faceoff guy in the league. That’s job security. That’s ice time. That’s role definition. That’s a job in the league, man.”