The Toronto Maple Leafs were looking for a centre, and Jerred Smithson was their man.
Smithson signed a pro-rated $550,000 (U.S.) deal for the rest of this NHL season and will make his debut Friday, against the New Jersey Devils.
The 34-year-old is expected to centre a fourth line of Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren and fill in elsewhere as the Leafs play on without the injured Dave Bolland and Tyler Bozak.
“I’m not here to replace any of those guys that are out,” Smithson said Thursday. “I’m going to come in and do my job and play with energy and be a good teammate, solid in the faceoff circle, penalty kill and whatever they ask I’ll be there for it. Just go out there and do my thing.”
Smithson’s big thing is faceoffs. He was ranked 13th in the NHL last season with a 55.4-per-cent success rate while playing for the Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers.
“I know what got me here, and I know what’s going to keep me around and in the loop is being real strong defensively, not just faceoffs but good on the penalty kill and good in the locker room,” he said. “I’ll try to contribute when I can, and if there’s opportunity to take advantage of it.”
There’s opportunity because the Leafs were fifth-worst in the league in faceoffs (45.0 per cent) through Wednesday’s games. Jay McClement and Nazem Kadri will be leaned on heavily in that area as Bolland (severed tendon in ankle) and Bozak (hamstring) are out indefinitely.
Smithson had been on a tryout with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.
“He’s played in a lot of defensive situations on the teams that he’s played for,” Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle said. “He’s been a real strong faceoff centreman, he’s been a strong penalty-killer. It just goes back to his history and our need. That need’s met, and that’s really what we’re looking for.
“We’re not asking him to come in and do anything more than be a solid contributor.”
Carlyle said Bozak has done “minimal” work while sitting out. He has not skated with teammates since suffering the hamstring injury Oct. 25 at the Columbus Blue Jackets.
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