Jerred Smithson was a classic late bloomer.
A solid but unspectacular player for five seasons with the WHL Calgary Hitmen, he was never drafted into either the WHL or NHL. The native of Vernon, BC had to walk on to the team. Even though he only scored 47 goals total in give seasons in junior, he became a mainstay through his dogged determination.
After getting not even a sniff at multiple NHL drafts, the Los Angeles Kings signed him as a free agent late in his last WHL season. He turned pro in 2000-01, though his pro career almost got derailed before he got started. He required surgery on both shoulders that sidelined him for all but 27 minor league games.
"That first year was tough. Getting my right shoulder operated on in the summer and then coming into camp and finding out my left needed to be done, too," he told Randy Sportak of the Calgary Sun. "I only played about 20 games and was out of shape from the operations. I wasn't having fun coming to the rink because my shoulders were pretty sore."
The NHL must have seemed pretty far off Smithson's radar at that point. But he worked hard at rehabbing his shoulders and returned the next year, surprising to play a full season and develop his game.
That determination paid off in 2002-03 when Smithson played in 22 total games for the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings, decimated by injuries, appreciated Smithson's play.
"He's been good for us and a guy that's taken advantage of the opportunity. He's getting bigger and stronger and is willing to hit everything that moves. The way he played in Calgary is the way he's playing here now," said Kings' coach Andy Murray.
"What Jerred has to do is make sure it's not a 20-game career," Murray continued. "What this should do is help him come to training camp thinking, 'I'm an NHL player.' "I don't know, in his own mind, if he totally believed that before."
Murray's words proved to be very prophetic, though Smithson would have to wait until after the 2005 lockout to catch on with another team.
Smithson would play nearly eight full seasons with the Nashville Predators. He achieved such unusual certainty in hockey by being a favorite of coach Barry Trotz thanks to his excellent face-off ability and penalty killing prowess. He could play all three forward positions getting somewhere around 10 to 12 minutes a night. And those minutes were usually defensively tough minutes. It was rare that he would get to start in the offensive zone. He did exactly what he was asked to do - block shots, clear the puck, dump it into the other team's zone and get off the ice.
"It shows you never know," Smithson said. "You just go out there and play hard, control what you can.
"I don't put up a lot of (offensive) numbers, which I'd like to change. But I know what got me here and I know what's going to keep me here - being strong defensively. All the little things."
Smithson would wind down his career with quick appearances in Florida, Edmonton and Toronto. All in all, Jerred Smithson beat the long odds and played in 606 NHL games, scoring 39 goals and 96 points.
After taking a year off in 2014 Smithson came out of retirement and signed with the Danish club Herning.
“It will take some time for me to adjust to the larger ice surface but I love the idea of handling the puck more and not being forced to dump it in as much as I had to in the past. I’m really excited about being back on the ice playing again and having the opportunity to travel the world with the family.”