Sens fans are on the edge of their seat waiting to find out who the club’s next owner will be. Pierre Dorion has his sights set elsewhere, however, as he signed Czechia forward Jiri Smejkal to a contract on Friday.
Smejkal agreed to a one-year, entry-level contract worth $950k in total and $870k against the cap. He is waivers eligible, which means that a role in the NHL is not guaranteed.
“Jiri’s signing is a good addition for us. It improves our depth and provides us with an additional bottom-six option at forward.” – Pierre Dorion
Smejkal is a 26 year old forward who shoots left. His hulking 6’4″, 223 lbs frame makes him effective in a power role. This part of his game has developed more in recent years, which has helped him stand out in several European leagues.
“A big 6-foot-4 forward with good speed and skill, Smejkal has produced everywhere he has played in Europe.” – Steven Ellis, Daily Faceoff Prospect Analyst
Smejkal was undrafted out of the Western Hockey League. He was never much of an offensive producer in junior: scoring 17 goals and 59 points through 130 games. This lack of scoring continued through his first four professional seasons in Czechia. He tallied just 28 goals and 64 points through 146 games in that time.
The past two seasons were important for Smejkal. One year after moving to Finland’s top league- the LIIGA- he broke out to score 25 goals (3rd in league) and 46 points (7th in league) through 45 games played. He was one of just four players to score more than a point-per-game. Smejkal’s emergence carried into this season: where he scored 23 goals (tied for 2nd) and 43 points (6th) through 49 games in Sweden’s top league, the SHL.
The LIIGA and SHL are not to be mistaken for easy leagues. They are widely considered the third and fourth most difficult hockey confederations globally. They are especially known for hosting strong defensive play; it’s rare for more than a few players to score higher than a point-per-game.
“Naturally, it was never thought to be likely that Smejkal would one day make it all go click or else a national team player bringing his size to the table would have been grabbed somewhere in the course of four years of draft eligibility. At this point, his signing by an NHL team seems inevitable and that team would have to be looking to get results similar to that of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ signing of Radim Zohorna several years ago.” – McKeen’s Hockey, 2022
Smejkal has long been recognized on the international stage. He has represented Czechia in 19 different events since 2011- including the Olympic games (2022) and World Championships (2021, 2022). He is expected to play for Czechia again at the upcoming World Championship.
Although Smejkal considered himself a pass-first type of player when he played in the Western Hockey League, his scoring game has been refined in recent years. This is a result of shooting more, but more prominently utilizing his frame in an offensive manner. Many scouts believed the physical side of his game required development to serve an NHL role. Smejkal appears to be far more confident with his size than he was a few years ago. This is likely due to the tasking attributes of the LIIGA and SHL.
Smejkal owns the natural tools required to succeed in an NHL role. He has put the more technical aspects of his game together over the past two seasons, and is primed for greater opportunity.
Fit in Ottawa
This signing came as a surprise. It certainly emphasized how important upgrading depth was to the organization. The production of this season’s bottom six wasn’t sustainable moving forward.
Smejkal is far from guaranteed a starting role in Ottawa. He adds another element of competition to training camp, however, and is a low-risk acquisition. Finding low-risk, high-reward players is pivotal to managing a tight salary cap. The best teams are able to find diamonds in the rough on affordable contracts.
As for where he fits in the lineup, Smejkal is a likely bottom six candidate. It’s hard to predict whether he’ll be more effective than past conglomerations, but the bar isn’t overly high. Smejkal is coming into the league in his prime while having played in Canada previously. The adjustment period should be rather small.
Signing Smejkal makes it unlikely that Austin Watson returns. The same can probably be said for Patrick Brown, though the door doesn’t feel closed on that front.
Smejkal will compete with the likes of Mark Kastelic, Parker Kelly, Egor Sokolov, Angus Crookshank and others for a role in Ottawa’s bottom six. The organization appears confident in his ability to make the roster.