TORONTO - The Toronto Maple Leafs were looking for a centre, and Jerred Smithson was their man.
Smithson signed a pro-rated US$550,000 deal for the rest of this season and will make his debut Friday night against the New Jersey Devils. The 34-year-old is expected to centre a fourth line of Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren and fill in elsewhere as the Leafs play on without the injured Dave Bolland and Tyler Bozak.
"I'm not here to replace any of those guys that are out," Smithson said Thursday. "I'm going to come in and do my job and play with energy and be a good teammate, solid in the faceoff circle, penalty-kill and whatever they ask I'll be there for it. Just go out there and do my thing."
Smithson's big thing is faceoffs. He was ranked 13th in the NHL last season with a 55.4 per-cent success rate while playing for the Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers.
"I know what got me here, and I know what's going to keep me around and in the loop is being real strong defensively, not just faceoffs but good on the penalty kill and good in the locker room," he said. "I'll try to contribute when I can, and if there's opportunity to take advantage of it."
There's opportunity because the Leafs were fifth-worst in the league in faceoffs (45.0 per cent) through Wednesday's games. Jay McClement and Nazem Kadri will be leaned on heavily in that area as Bolland (severed tendon in ankle) and Bozak (hamstring) are out indefinitely.
Smithson had been on a tryout with the AHL's Toronto Marlies and tried not to pay too much attention to the Leafs' injuries. But the organization watched the veteran in his seven games there and knows what he brings.
"He's played in a lot of defensive situations on the teams that he's played for," coach Randy Carlyle said. "He's been a real strong faceoff centreman, he's been a strong penalty-killer. It just goes back to his history and our need. That need's met, and that's really what we're looking for. We're not asking him to come in and do anything more than be a solid contributor."
Carlyle said Bozak has done "minimal" work while sitting out. He has not skated with teammates since suffering the hamstring injury Oct. 25 at the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Defenceman Mark Fraser is expected to return to the Leafs' lineup Friday night against the Devils after missing more than a month with a left knee injury.
"There's been no real hard-copy memo sent my way," Fraser said. "But I think between myself and the coaching staff and the training staff, I think that we all feel like I'm comfortable to get back in it."
Fraser injured his knee on a hit from former Leafs forward Jay Rosehill Oct. 2 in Philadelphia. He has missed the past 13 games.
It appears as though 19-year-old rookie Morgan Rielly could be scratched versus New Jersey to make room for Fraser, but Carlyle did not confirm that.
"Obviously with seven defencemen and the eighth one being John-Michael Liles now, we have decisions to make," Carlyle said Wednesday. "It's not any different than any other time that we have extra bodies. You're going to make the decision what you feel is best for your hockey club, who's going to give you the best chance to win."
At six-foot-four and 220 pounds, Fraser brings a physical element that the Leafs have been lacking on the blue line.
"I think we need physical, I think we need puck-moving, I think we need (to) quit the turnovers, I think we got to get back to more (of) a workman-like game versus the cute game that I think we've been trying to play," Carlyle said.
Fraser could help in that regard now that he's deemed himself healthy after a couple of full practices.
"They've been good, good as far as the physical aspect of it," the 27-year-old said. "We've done a lot of battling drills, which were a really strong test for me. Just did some extra corner battling work one-on-one with (defenceman Cody) Franson, who's a pretty big contestant. Everything's good."
HALL OF FAME GAME
Even though the Leafs play at the Boston Bruins on Saturday night, their game against the Devils is actually the annual Hall of Fame game. Former Devils defenceman Scott Niedermayer is part of the class of 2013 that will be inducted Monday night.
"Those are things that, in our market, we get to deal with on a regular basis," Carlyle said of the Hall of Fame game. "It's a tribute to the people that are going in, the players that are going in. Obviously with the Hockey Hall of Fame here, we feel we're privileged and honoured to be a part of it."