To help celebrate NBC Rivalry Night, NHL.com will look at a rivalry within the rivalry of the featured game on Wednesday nights. For this week we are wondering which emerging young forward, Reilly Smith of the Boston Bruins or Cody Hodgson of the Buffalo Sabres, would be the best option around which to build a team.
Reilly Smith was taken by the Dallas Stars with the 69th pick of the 2009 NHL Draft. He appeared in three games for the Stars near the end of the 2011-12 season after scoring 30 goals in 39 games for the Miami University.
Smith split his first full professional season between Dallas and the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League. The right wing experienced more success in the AHL with 14 goals and 21 assists in 45 games; he also had three goals and nine points in 37 NHL games.
The 2012-13 season would prove to be Smith's only one with the Stars organization. On July 4, 2013, Smith was part of the blockbuster trade with the Boston Bruins that sent forward Tyler Seguin to Dallas.
Just like Smith, Hodgson already is playing for a second NHL team. The 24-year-old center was taken by the Vancouver Canucks with the 10th pick of the 2008 draft.
Hodgson made his NHL debut with the Canucks during the 2010-11 season, when he had one goal and one assist in eight games. He also got his first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs but was held without a goal in 12 games. The Canucks reached the Stanley Cup Final that year, falling in seven games to the Bruins.
He enjoyed more success the following season. In 63 games with Vancouver Hodgson had 16 goals, 17 assists and a plus-8 rating and appeared to be on his way to developing into the two-way center the Canucks envisioned.
But just prior to the trade deadline that season the Canucks traded Hodgson, along with defenseman Alexander Sulzer, to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for power forward Zack Kassian and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani.
While the Sabres have struggled this season, Hodgson has produced. He entered the Olympic break as Buffalo's leading scorer with 30 points (14 goals, 16 assists) in 47 games.
Smith and Hodgson clearly have emerged as key young components for their respective clubs. But as Smith's Bruins prepare to face Hodgson's Sabres at First Niagara Center in the Wednesday Night Rivalry game (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2), is there one that would be more desirable if you were looking to start a team today?
Let's break it down and reach a conclusion:
Smith moved from college hockey to the NHL in 2012. He made his debut March 28 against the Edmonton Oilers but received 4:05 of ice time. His playing time increased during the next two games but the Stars would not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Smith would spend the first half of the 2012-13 season in the AHL but he didn't dwell on it. After scoring 35 points in 45 games for Texas, the Toronto native was promoted to Dallas and spent the second half of the season in the NHL. He scored his first NHL goal Feb. 15 against the Vancouver Canucks and added his second goal two nights later against the Calgary Flames. But he would score one goal over his final 23 games and finished the season with nine points in 37 games.
He got a fresh start when the blockbuster trade between the Stars and Bruins was finalized July 4, 2013. Dallas traded Smith, along with Loui Eriksson, Joe Morrow and Matt Fraser, to Boston in exchange for Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Ryan Button. Smith made the Bruins out of training camp and hasn't looked back.
Smith scored his first goal as a Bruin on Oct. 17 against the Florida Panthers. It was his third point in what would become a five-game point streak. He had his first multi-point game the following month (also against Florida) and had a goal and two assists in a 6-2 win against the Nashville Predators on Dec. 23.
Smith has had nine multi-point games this season.
Heading into the game Wednesday against the Sabres, Smith ranks second on the Bruins with 18 goals. He has 42 points in 57 games and his five power-play goals rank third on the club.
After being selected in the first round of the 2008 NHL Draft, Hodgson was returned to the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League for a third season. He thrived in junior, posting his second straight 40-goal season and finishing with 92 points in 53 games. Hodgson added another 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 21 OHL playoff games. When the season ended he joined the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League and had two goals and four assists in 11 playoff games.
Hodgson spent much of the 2009-10 season back in Brampton fighting the injury bug. A back injury sidelined Hodgson early in the season, and when he was able to return he broke a toe in his fourth game back. He played 13 regular-season games and had eight goals and 12 assists. He also had 10 points in 11 OHL playoff games.
In 2010-11 Hodgson was old enough to play full-time in the AHL and started the season with Manitoba. He had 17 goals and 13 assists in 52 games and made his NHL debut with the Canucks on Feb. 1, 2011 against the Dallas Stars. One night later he scored his first NHL goal, against the Phoenix Coyotes. He had two points in eight games for Vancouver and then played in 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games, helping the Canucks reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Hodgson established himself as an NHL player the following season when he had 16 goals and 17 assists in 63 games for Vancouver. But he was traded Feb. 27, 2012 to the Buffalo Sabres in a deal that sent Zack Kassian to Vancouver. He finished the 2011-12 season by scoring eight points in 20 games with the Sabres.
Hodgson started the 2012-13 season in the AHL with the Rochester Americans, where he averaged a point per game (five goals, 14 assists in 19 games). He made his season debut with Buffalo on Jan. 20 and scored a goal in his first three games. Determined to prove to Sabres brass that he could play at the sport's highest level, Hodgson finished with 15 goals and 19 assists while playing all 48 games.
A rough start to the 2013-14 season has led to many changes in Buffalo, including a new team president, general manager and coach. Talented forward Thomas Vanek was traded to the New York Islanders in October and Ted Nolan was hired on an interim basis to replace Ron Rolston as coach in November. Hodgson, though, has taken all of the changes in stride.
The 24-year-old entered the Olympic break as the Sabres' leader in goals (14), points (30) and power-play points (13) in 47 games. He is tied with Steve Ott for the team lead with six power-play goals, and his 13 power-play points tops the Sabres' roster.
Hodgson is averaging 18:11 of ice time per game and is winning 45.7 percent of his faceoffs.
Verdict: Hodgson has had to overcome a lot of adversity the past few seasons, dating back to the various injuries he dealt with during his time in Brampton. He's found ways to produce this season for a Sabres team that ranks 30th in the NHL with 1.82 goals per game.
However, Smith would get the vote right now. He's flourished in his new surroundings and has all the makings of an annual 20-goal scorer. His ability to skate alongside the likes of a future Hall of Famer like Iginla likely will prove to be invaluable.
Smith will get a real test this spring in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he must prove that he can produce on the biggest stage in the sport. But considering the offensive consistency he's shown at each level, there's little reason to believe Smith won't be a force for the Bruins in the postseason.
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