Struggling Smith relegated to press box, making room for Klinkhammer debut

Paul MacLean’s search to find the right offensive mix for his team claimed another victim on Sunday: Zack Smith.

SUNRISE, Florida — Paul MacLean’s search to find the right offensive mix for his team claimed another victim on Sunday: Zack Smith.

With the the Ottawa Senator head coach wanting to see how Binghamton left wing Rob Klinkhammer fits on the depth chart, someone had to sit, and Smith was without a chair when the music stopped.

MacLean wouldn’t characterize the benching of Smith as a warning shot. Then again, he wasn’t denying it, either.

“I don’t know if we’re really sending a message that way, but that’s the way it is in the league,” he said.

“You have to earn your opportunity to play in the league, and it’s on a nightly basis.

“We evaluate it on a game-by-game basis, and at this point the other 12 forwards are playing better.”

It wasn’t so much that Smith hasn’t had a point in his last 12 games. He’s not Jason Spezza and everyone understands that.

It’s that he hasn’t played with the same verve that earned him a roster spot in the first place.

“I think he has to play harder and be more physical in the role that he has and be a better penalty killer, and also be more consistent,” said MacLean.

So Smith joined Kaspars Daugavins, who sat for the third straight game on Sunday, and Klinkhammer joined Jim O’Brien, who was called up for a similar audition 14 games ago and hasn’t been out of the lineup since.

And MacLean made it clear that Klinkhammer has the same opportunity in front of him. MacLean has some time now before the playoffs start to find the players who will fit if the ones who have played all year — Smith, Daugavins, and Bobby Butler — can’t or won’t do it.

It’s no time to be a sentimentalist, so Klinkhammer has his chance.

“We’re still looking for depth on our team and we’re going to give him an opportunity to see if he can be part of it,” said MacLean.

“We haven’t seen him play here this year. We’ve just been reading the stats and listening to what people are telling us. We haven’t had the opportunity to see him.

“And we wanted to see him, because he’s having such a good year down there.”

The book on Klinkhammer is that while he has NHL size at 6-3 and 214-pounds, and is fast, he’s otherwise average.

He was undrafted as a 16-year-old by his hometown Lethbridge Hurricanes, and he was undrafted when his junior career ended. He finally caught on as a 21-year with the Norfolk Admirals.

His coach there was present Binghamton assistant Steve Stirling, who, in a newspaper interview at the end of the 2007-08 season, offered this evaluation of Klinkhammer.

“He’s got NHL size and his skating is a little above average for the NHL,” said Stirling.

“I would say based on his tenacity and those attributes he would have an outside chance to be a fourth line player in the NHL. Go up and down his wing and bang and crash and muck it up. Kill some penalties.

“His hands are average and his offensive sense is average and he gets into trouble when he gets excited and his brain can’t keep up.

“He’s a classic 10th or 11th forward who you know is going to do the dirty stuff. That’s what’s going to keep him here or help him rise.”

So far it’s only kept him in the AHL.

In four seasons for minor-league teams in the Chicago organization, he played just one NHL game, on December 10, 2010, replacing the injured Patrick Kane.

That didn’t amount to anything, and on Dec. 2, 2011 he was traded to the Senators for virtually nothing: a conditional seventh round draft pick in the 2013 draft.

Is was time for both sides to move on, said Klinkhammer, who has scored 68 goals and 100 assists in 342 AHL games, with Norfolk, Rockford, and Binghamton.

“I wasn’t really surprised about the trade. I was kind of struggling there,” he said.

“I’d been there awhile and I think a change was really good for me.

“I was on the fourth line there, and I think they saw that I wasn’t really going anywhere and they could have had some prospects in there.

“So I think a move there was the best for everyone. I think it’s worked out good for everyone.”

So now he has a chance to show that he can play in the NHL.

Injuries permitting, his usual companions in Binghamton have been Corey Locke and Mark Parrish, or, when injuries don’t permit, Stephane Da Costa and Wacey Hamilton.

On Sunday in Florida, he was slated to start on a line with Daniel Alfredsson and Kyle Turris.

“I’m just super excited. I’m so glad to be here, so thankful to get an opportunity,” Klinkhammer said on Sunday morning.

“I’m just going to try to make the most of it, have some fun, and try not to be too nervous.

“Just trying to work hard and keep it simple. It’s kind of a cliche, but I’m not a real fancy player, not one of the top skill guys.

“I just try to get the puck, grind it out in the corners, go to the front of the net, try to bang in a couple goals and assists, and I’ve been lucky down there.

“I was a little bit surprised (to get recalled). You just never know what an organization is thinking. I just tried to put my best foot forward, tried to make a good impression, and luckily I think they’ve seen something they like in me.

“Whatever happens in the future happens, but I’m just going to take care of right now.”

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