Reilly Smith didn’t make it to his senior season at Miami University. After scoring 30 goals and 18 assists as a junior, Smith signed with the Dallas Stars, who drafted him 69th overall in 2009.
So far, Smith’s decision looks like a smart one.
As a first-year pro, Smith made the jump from college to the NHL. During the lockout, he appeared in 45 games for the Texas Stars, Dallas’s AHL affiliate. When the NHL reopened for business, the first-year pro broke camp with the varsity.
This year, Smith could do the same with his new employer.
“So far, so good,” said Smith, who came to the Bruins in the Tyler Seguin trade. “You never know what to expect when you join a new organization. But it’s been better than I could have ever imagined. Everyone’s been really welcoming here. You just try and do your best and catch someone’s eye.”
The Bruins have two openings up front, possibly both on the No. 3 line. Chris Kelly will be the third-line center. For the first three days of camp, Smith has practiced on Kelly’s right side, with Jordan Caron skating on the left wing. Smith could have the inside line on the job once held by Rich Peverley.
The left-shot Smith, the younger brother of Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith, is a smart and skilled forward. As a rookie, he scored three goals and six assists in 37 games. Smith, an offensive-minded player in the AHL and college, was deployed as an energy forward under Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan, splitting time between center and left wing. Two of his regular linemates were Cody Eakin and Ryan Garbutt. Smith also took some shifts with Loui Eriksson and Derek Roy.
The Bruins are seeking a blend of skill and jam on the third line. Coach Claude Julien referred to the 2011 season, when the Bruins rolled out Kelly and Peverley with Michael Ryder. That year, the third line could provide scoring depth to complement the units centered by David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron. The Bruins would not have gotten past Montreal in the opening round of the playoffs had Kelly’s line not contributed offensively.
In that way, Smith believes he could be a third-line candidate. At Miami, Smith was a go-to right wing. As an NHLer, the 6-foot, 185-pound Smith considers himself a point-producing presence.
However, Smith cannot afford to focus on offense. Julien expects his third line to be responsible defensively.
“I’d say my main strengths are offensive instincts, just being able to find teammates and bury the puck when you get an opportunity,” Smith said. “Something I have to work on is probably my defensive game. You try and be able to do both at the same time. They’ve made it pretty apparent that if you can’t play in your defensive zone, you won’t be playing at all.”
The third line rarely gained traction last season. Kelly and Peverley started the season with Chris Bourque as their left wing. The line didn’t punch in offensively. Defensively, the three forwards were regularly on the ice for opposing goals.
Even if Smith has a current advantage, the Bruins have other forwards fighting for third-line duties. Candidates include Caron, Carl Soderberg, and Craig Cunningham. Daniel Paille, a fixture on the fourth line, has started camp alongside usual linemates Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton. But the Bruins are also considering bumping Paille up to No. 3 left wing.
Smith is also competing with fellow ex-Star Matt Fraser, also part of the Seguin deal. Fraser played in only 12 games for Dallas last season, but is considered a more gifted offensive presence than Smith. Fraser’s shot is heavy and accurate. The left wing buried 33 goals in 62 AHL games last season.
“Matt Fraser’s known as a real high-end, skilled player, and you can see it,” Julien said. “He’s got really good skill. He shoots the puck well. So does Smith. Smith’s got more grit to his game, but also a guy who goes hard to the net and can shoot the puck well. Both those guys are great acquisitions. We can talk about Loui and say how good a player he is, and rightfully so. But there’s some other guys that came along with him that I think are going to be NHLers.”