Colin Smith was first NHL draft eligible in 2011, but his name was never called during that June’s selection process.
It wasn’t the worst thing, though, because Smith, a major junior standout for Kamloops of the Western Hockey League, knew he had three years to be drafted—not just one—before he would have to use the free-agent route.
He knew he could get back to work with the Blazers in the 2011-12 season and move up NHL teams’ draft boards the following summer and just begin his trek toward an NHL career 12 months later than expected.
But for six of the seven rounds in the 2012 draft, his name wasn’t called and his feeling of, “It’s all good,” began to morph into, “I might need to think of other options.”
That internal dialogue ceased, though, when the Avalanche, with the 192nd pick, chose Smith with its final selection after taking notice of the 5-foot-10, 160-pounder’s impressive 35 goals and 50 assists during the 2011-12 season.
Smith was happy to be chosen, for sure, but sitting and waiting for nearly two whole drafts without hearing his name called wasn’t what he had in mind as a start to his professional career.
It was enough to put a boulder-sized chip on Smith’s shoulder, and he’s used that to his advantage ever since, scoring at an incredible pace the past two seasons for Kamloops, including notching a team-leading 106 points (41g/65a) last season with 14 more points coming in 12 WHL playoff games.
The Avs noticed and rewarded Smith’s effort and offered him an NHL contract this summer, putting him in the upper echelon of the franchise’s potential player pool.
“It hasn't been easy for me,” Smith said, “going through a whole draft and then almost going through another, getting picked in the seventh round. But that's why I carry a chip on my shoulder and try and prove that I'm worth more than that.
“To sign was a huge step for me, and now it’s just a matter of going out and doing what I do.”
Smith joined the WHL in 2008 after Kamloops selected him in the first round of the WHL Bantam Draft, and he increased his point total in each of his seasons with the Blazers before having that breakout year in 2011-12, the year the Avs added him to its system.
Last year, in 2012-13, he and Blazers teammates J.C. Lipon and Tim Bozon combined to form one of the best young lines in the entire Canadian Hockey League, even though the highest draft selection by any of the three was Bozon’s 64th pick by Montreal in the third round of this year’s draft.
“We didn’t have any high-profile guys, and we all wanted to prove ourselves,” Smith said. “My line, especially with me, J.C. Lipon and Bozon felt we wanted to prove ourselves, and I thought we had a pretty good year.”
They did indeed, scoring 113 goals combined and putting up 286 points (153a). Their season ended just short of a WHL championship—the Kamloops lost to the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Conference Championship—but Smith’s individual effort was exactly what the Avalanche needed to see to reward him with that first pro contract.
He anchored one of, if not the best, lines in the WHL, and it paid off with a draft selection.
“We played the whole year the year before, so we had another year to get more chemistry and to just go out and get a little more confidence, obviously, from the year before,” Smith said. “We had more of a team goal to go for. Unfortunately, we didn't win it all, but we had a good run.
“It was just a matter of I knew I had to go out and do something to get noticed—play the best I could every night because only being good wasn't going to cut it, and I wanted to go out and put up a year where people would notice me, and that's what I was able to do.”
He did make people notice, and he’s now in his first training camp with Colorado, trying to do his best to impress the Avalanche front office and let it know how fortunate it was that he was still available after all the other teams passed him over in the draft.
“I am actually thankful the draft, for me, unfolded the way it did because I try and carry that within every year,” Smith said. “I'm coming here, and it's a great opportunity for everyone, especially with new guys, new coaching staff. I just want to prove that I can play and I can contribute at a high level.”
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