Reilly Smith admitted that he didn’t foresee a point at any time this season when he’d be leading the Boston Bruins in goals scored.
That’s not exactly a knock on the 22-year-old’s self-confidence as he was joining a team that’s been to the Stanley Cup Finals twice in the last three years, and was himself coming off a three-goal, nine-point rookie season in Dallas where he didn’t generate much offense in a bottom-six role.
But that’s all changed this year in a big, big way. Smith potted a pair of goals in the B’s 5-0 win over the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden, and leads the Bruins with 14 goals scored on the season before they’ve even reached the halfway mark in the season. Smith is on a pace for 30 goals and 65 points for the Black and Gold, and he’s fit right in on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
Given that he was viewed as a throw-in with Loui Eriksson in the Seguin swap with Dallas, he’s done a good job of proving he might be the best thing Boston received from the Stars in the summer hockey trade.
It was a point he wanted to prove after coming to Boston with question about how good an NHL player he could be in Boston.
“I think every hockey player has that type of mindset. My first thing coming to this team was just to make the team. Everything is going pretty well right now; the thing is not to be happy with where you are, just to keep on pushing,” said Smith. “If you’re on a hot streak, it can turn cold really quick so just keep a positive attitude and the same outlook going into each day.”
It’s difficult to imagine Claude Julien pulling him from the right wing spot alongside those two players when Loui Eriksson returns to the lineup given the obvious chemistry Smith has built in the spot occupied by his Brampton buddy Tyler Seguin. Smith generated eight shot attempts and a team-high six shots on net, and knew it was a matter of time before the floodgates opened for both of his goals in the third period.
“We were getting tons of chances in the first and mainly in the second and nothing was really going in. You’ve got to stay positive and if it’s not going in it’s just a matter of time,” said Smith. “We were creating great scoring chances, Marsh [Brad Marchand] and Berg [Patrice Bergeron] did a great job creating two-on-ones and odd man rushes. Sooner or later it went in and it kind of came in a bunch.”
Claude Julien has clearly warmed to Smith as a player and begun to give him more responsibility and ice time both five-on-five and during the power play. He’s responded with all good things since winning a third line job in camp, and continuing to show the playmaking skill, the high hockey IQ and the all-important ability to finish.
“This guy has been a good player from day one. I don’t think that he was ever looked upon as just a throw-in. If you look back at his college years, he was a pretty good player. He’s just come in here and he’s been given an opportunity to play on a regular basis, I guess, in the NHL and he’s just starting to showcase what he’s capable of doing,” said Julien. “He’s a young player – I think he’s 22-years-old – so it’s just a matter of him being that good and making things happen.
“I don’t think it’s a fluke. I’ve liked his game from the first day he stepped into camp. I liked his, like I said, his hockey sense, his decision making in tough areas and everything else, and his skill level. So to me it’s not a surprise after I saw him. But definitely I don’t know that during the summer, when the trade was done, that we’d expect him to be where he is right now. Those are bonuses for teams after they make those kind of deals.”
Smith might be currently scoring at a level that will level off a bit in the second half of the season, but he’s proven to be a keeper in an important deal for the Black and Gold.