Reilly Smith played in the AHL Tuesday night and you could argue that he was the best player on the ice in the Texas Stars’ 7-6 overtime win over the Houston Aeros.
He had one goal, one assist, three shots and a game-best plus-four rating. His assist on the goal that put Texas up 6-5 was a gem. Smith made a nifty move to shake off a Houston defender, came out from behind the Houston net and backhanded the puck to pinching defenseman Tyler Sloan, who scored from close range.
“I definitely felt more confident on the ice down there, and I felt like I was able to do a little more with the puck,” said Smith, who was recalled to the Dallas Stars on Wednesday. “I think I had more time with the puck in the first period than in my last couple games up here. It was good to get the confidence back up.”
At the NHL level, the confidence has taken a hit lately for Smith. He was a healthy scratch in two Dallas Stars games last week, but did get into the lineup for Monday’s game against Minnesota when there was an open spot after Brenden Morrow was traded to Pittsburgh. Over his last nine games played he has one assist and four shots on goal.
“It’s tough when you are in and out of the lineup and not really creating that many scoring chances when you’re in,” Smith said. “It takes a toll on your confidence and it takes a toll on your ability to make plays and what you want to do with the puck.”
“I thought Reilly needed to do a little bit more, and be more consistent in his play. It’s like that with any young player,” said Dallas Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “Like I’ve said, this league is ramped up now. The five-year pros, the veteran guys, they are going now. It’s gotten a lot tougher. I thought he’s done an adequate job.”
Smith, Dallas’ 3rd round pick (69th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, is in his first full professional season. And it’s been an adjustment. Maybe the biggest adjustment for Smith has been the schedule. As a player coming out of college, he’s used to playing about 40 games a season. This season he is already at 67 games played – 39 in the AHL and 28 in the NHL.
“It’s a huge adjustment. I would say the amount of games is the biggest part of it,” Smith said. “My last two seasons in college probably will be about the amount of games I might play this year. It’s a bit more of a grind, you could say you’ve hit a wall a little bit, but it’s what you have to do every day. I just have to work hard and keep my body in better physical shape than I did when I was in college.”
Smith has picked up six points (three goals, three assists) in his 28 NHL games this season. He’s spent most of the time in the bottom six group of forwards. That’s a much different role than he played in college, where he was one of the top goal scorers in the country, and even at the beginning of this season, when he was a top six guy for the Texas Stars and one of the team’s top scorers.
“That’s not the type of game I am supposed to play up here,” said Smith. “I am able to take more risks in the AHL, swing back with the puck and create time and there is more time playing down there.”
The Stars are hoping that one-game stint in the AHL this week, the quality ice time he got and his performance will provide a little wind in Smith’s sails as the Stars head into the final third of the season.
“He went down to Houston, played and was the best player on the ice. He got some of those minutes and got some of that confidence,” said Gulutzan. “I think we’ve been developing our young guys the right way, giving them time here, but giving them ample opportunity time down there to play minutes. He’s played some great games and I think that confidence is going to help him.”