B's Smith making the most of his chance

B's Smith making the most of his chance
October 23, 2013, 2:30 am
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WILMINGTON, Mass. – It’s not courting any kind of controversy to say young Reilly Smith was considered an afterthought in the hockey trade that saw the Bruins ship out the raw, underachieving Tyler Seguin in exchange for the consistent, mature Loui Eriksson. There wasn’t much of an extended breakdown of the July trade at all, aside from the main players that were switched for each other.

Smith was a part of the package after quietly playing last season in Dallas as a bottom six energy winger, and exactly the kind of player the Bruins scouting staff targeted from the Stars organization. He uses his stick and body positioning to help win battles against bigger, stronger opponents, and is fortunate that he hasn’t stung the B’s with an ill-timed penalty.

According to a source within the Bruins organization, Boston management asked for Eriksson, Smith and former Boston University standout Alex Chiasson in exchange for Seguin. But the Bruins were rebuffed in their quest for Chiasson, and instead the Bruins took home Smith, Matt Fraser and Joe Morrow along with an All-Star level talent in Eriksson.

The 23-year-old Chiasson has jumped out to a great start for the Stars this season with three goals and six points in eight games for Dallas, and in another world might have been a valuable contributor for the Bruins. Morrow is on a slow, deliberate path to the NHL while he works to smooth out a game the Bruins believe will make him a top-four defenseman playing in Boston. Fraser is a guy that that can bury shots from the net with the best of them, or at least that’s what he did at the AHL level.

But the Bruins have their own revelation in the 22-year-old Smith, who has scored points in four straight games since getting bumped up to the second line with Patrice Bergeron and Eriksson.

“He’s a smart player that’s also got some good skill at making plays, and you could see all of that in Dallas last season,” said Eriksson. “For Reilly it was always about playing with an increased level of confidence, and it’s pretty obvious that has been there to start the season.”

It was clear Smith was going to be a useful player for the Bruins when he stood head and shoulders above the rest during the open third line audition during training camp. That was impressive enough. For a player not known for his physicality or gritty tendencies when he was Dallas, Smith used his smarts and wiry strength to win battles with a highly competitive attitude.

That got him in the door and on the Boston roster, and the rest has been simply taking advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves.

“I can’t complain so far. Everything is going close to perfectly, so I just hope that it keeps going this way and just take it day-by-day,” said Smith. “For me it was about trying to improve my game, so the [coaching staff] will move you up and play you with different kinds of players.

“They’ve given me a great opportunity. So what I need to do right now is make sure I’m on top of my game, and that I’m not giving them any reasons to take me back down [from a top-six forward spot]. I was a little tentative last year at times, but also the Bruins have given me more of an opportunity than Dallas did. They’ve given me a chance to play my game rather than just dump it in [the zone], chase after it and simply play that energy forward role. Getting to play the skill game has helped my confidence, and then you hold onto the puck a little longer until plays develop.”

Brad Marchand has struggled mightily since the start of training camp, so the Bruins didn’t hesitate pulling the trigger on Smith as a second-line forward.

They haven’t regretted it yet, and it would appear that Smith’s role might keep expanding after he was placed on the second power play unit last weekend against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Smith has been placed on the point along with Dougie Hamilton as the Bruins coaching staff continues to search for the winning combination, and tries to recreate the magic of Fenway Park come playoff time.

“We worked on it during the road trip, and he’s got good vision and sees the ice well,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “When I talked to him he had played there in the [AHL] on the point, and that made my decision even easier to put him there.

“Now we just need to get our power play to produce. We spend plenty of time in the offensive end with good puck movement, and we need to bury more pucks. That needs to come from everybody.”

The Bruins seem to be banking that some of the play-making will come from Smith in a creative offensive position as point on the power play. It’s clearly not a bad plan given that Smith is second on the B’s in overall points [five] this season, and has provided more offense than either Eriksson or Jarome Iginla during the very young hockey season.