It would have been easy for Jacob Smith to become discouraged in his Ontario Hockey League rookie season.
A 16-year-old from Sudbury when he arrived at the Kingston Frontenacs camp in September, Smith turned 17 on Jan. 30 before he scored his first OHL goal on Sunday against the Niagara IceDogs.
“It’s been bugging me all season. Definitely, a good thing,” said Smith, who took a pass from Conor Stokes, leaned in on defenceman Shayne Rover and then beat goaltender Chris Festarini under the blocker for his goal just 1:59 into the game.
In the Frontenacs' 60th game and the 50th he has dressed for, Smith ended up with his first two-point game. Smith will try to produce some more on Wednesday night in Belleville against the Bulls.
His modest rookie season numbers, a goal and six assists, are an indication that the learning curve for Smith has indeed been steep.
It's not surprising, however, considering Smith was a seventh-round pick of Kingston’s last May. His slight size — he is five-foot-ten and just 150 pounds — left him with just an outside shot at making the Frontenacs.
However, when it became apparent first-round pick Max Domi wasn’t reporting, the Frontenacs opted to keep Smith in the OHL.
“I was planning on playing wherever was best suited for me,” Smith said.
“Even though I am not playing every game, I am still learning so much in practices,” Smith said.
Head coach Todd Gill said it has been a challenging first year for Smith.
“It has been a long and trying year for him. Here’s a kid who came in and wasn’t prepared for what was going to be thrown at him,” Gill said.
“In midget he was always the guy who could dipsy-doodle and do all those things. All of a sudden he is up (in the OHL) against guys 40, 50 and 60 pounds heavier and those plays (in midget) just won’t work.”
Gill said having Smith sit out games and learn from that has been to his benefit.
“If you do (the sitting out) the right way and you watch, you learn some things. He has applied that to the last couple of games,” Gill said.
“Jacob is going to get some ice time in our (last) eight games to show us if mentally is he ready to do this. Physically, probably not because of his size but that can be fixed.”
Gill said Smith, not unlike the other first-year players on the Frontenacs, needs a good summer of working out, putting on some weight and getting stronger.
“He’s still got two years of growth before he probably is going to be at where he needs to be for this league,” Gill said.
“He has got the offensive upside to became a pretty good player.”
Smith sounds prepared to march to the team’s orders over the summer.
“I definitely plan on training so hard this summer. Working on my skating, my leg strength, my upper body,” Smith said.
“Obviously my size is a factor so I am going to try and gain some weight. It is going to be a good summer for sure.”
Gill said Smith, like all the players coming back next season, must show commitment to a workout regime over the summer.
“It is important for every single guy to be committed. There can be a lot of new faces fighting for jobs here next year,” Gill said.
“So everybody better come back ready to battle. Those who decided to take those couple extra weeks off in the summer could pay the price.”
Igor Bobkov, despite a couple of rough outings against London and Niagara, in which he was beat for 14 goals in less than four periods, will start against the Bulls. Bobkov has all six starts against Belleville and is 2-3-1. ... Ryan Kujawinski was excused from practice Tuesday for a personal reason which required him to be in Ottawa. Coach Gill said the team’s big rookie will play in Belleville. Kujawinski, with nine goals in February, has a shot at a 20-goal season. He has 14 goals and 30 points in 51 games. Since coming to the Frontenacs, Kujawinski has 13 goals and 24 points in 22 games.