When Reilly Smith was traded to the Bruins over the summer as part of a package of players in exchange for Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley, few people expected that Smith would immediately replace Seguin as an offensive leader in Boston.
Seguin and Loui Eriksson were the main courses of the trade, the big names, while Smith seemed to be a side dish, significant but not central.
Nearly six months after the trade, Smith is playing a significant and central role in Boston, leading all Bruins scorers with 14 goals and ranking second in points with 30 in 38 games.
“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,” Bruins coach Claude Julien admitted after Friday night’s 5-0 win over the Ottawa Senators.
Smith potted two goals on Friday night to nudge himself past Milan Lucic (12 goals) into sole possession for first on the team in goals. His two-point night was his third consecutive multi-point game, and he totaled seven points in those three games.
“My first thing coming to this team was just to make the team,” Smith said. “Everything is going pretty well right now. The thing is not to be happy with where you are, just to keep on pushing. 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.”
A look at Smith’s track record reveals his sophomore success is no fluke. Smith played his junior hockey for the St. Michael’s Buzzers of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League. After totaling nine points in 13 games during his first season, Smith exploded for 75 points in 49 games in his second year on the team.
The young forward then enrolled at Miami University, where he posted a quiet 20 points in 44 games as a freshman. The next year, he more than doubled that total with 54 points in 38 games.
In his second full year as an NHL player, Smith has tripled his scoring pace, but even he did not expect to have quite so much success this quickly.
“Absolutely not,” Smith said when asked if he could anticipate being the leading goal scorer for the Bruins. “[The Bruins have] such great hockey players. But when you get the opportunity to play with guys like [Patrice] Bergeron and Marsh [Brad Marchand], they make you a better player.
The Bruins will need Smith to stay hot in the immediate future. Although the team’s first line of Jarome Iginla, Milan Lucic and David Krejci is playing well, injuries and inconsistency plague much of the rest of the Boston lineup. Eriksson, who was supposed to be a key part of the Boston offense, is out indefinitely with his second concussion of the season. When he does return to the lineup, there is no telling what kind of shape he will be in.
Then there is the frustrating case of Brad Marchand, who at times shows flashes of the highly skilled player Bruins fans have come to know. He impressed at times Friday, as his shorthanded goal at the end of Friday’s game and his no-look feed to Smith on a 2-on-1 culminating in Smith’s first goal of the night proved the talent is still there. But then there have been the difficult moments, such as his failure to create a scoring opportunity after drawing Senators goalie Robin Lehner out of the net in the first period. Marchand is certainly playing better, but he is still not the player who led the team in scoring last season.
So the Bruins will look toward an unlikely supplier for now in Smith, who, at just 22 years old, may have just as much of a chance to be a vital player for the Bruins for years to come as the team expected out of Smith’s predecessor, Seguin.
“[Smith] has been a good player from day one,” Julien said. “I don’t think that he was ever looked upon as just a throw-in because if you look back at his college years he was a pretty good player. So he’s just come in here and he’s been given an opportunity to play on a regular basis in the NHL and he’s just starting to showcase what he’s capable of doing.
“He’s a young player, so it’s just a matter of him being that good and making things happen. I don’t think it’s a fluke.”