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Austin Smith's Progression Continues

by Doug Foster / Dallas Stars

You could probably imagine a guy named Austin, who grew up in Dallas, playing professional sports in this town.

He would probably be a safety for the Cowboys. Maybe a second baseman for the Rangers. Possibly even a point guard for the Mavericks or a sweeper for FC Dallas.

Nope. If Austin Smith, who grew up in Dallas and played at Jesuit College Preparatory School, makes it to his ultimate sports plateau, it will be in hockey. Seems like we’ve come full circle, eh?

Smith played his collegiate hockey for Colgate, where he was a Hobey Baker Award Finalist last year.

“It’s not that surprising, really,” said Les Jackson, the Dallas Stars’ Director of Player Personnel. “Kids are coming from everywhere now. California has a good base of players, and really it was just a matter of time for Dallas. If you look around, we’ve got a lot of good players here, and you never really know just how good some of them can be.

“It’s a credit to the kid, first of all. He’s got some people who helped him get there, but he’s the one doing it.”

Smith hasn’t officially “done it” yet, but one might say that his path to the National Hockey League is imminent. And when he does, the Stars themselves will have had quite a bit to do with him getting there.

After all, it was the Stars’ arrival in 1993 and the proliferation of available ice rinks, that helped create an atmosphere where kids had not only the desire, but also the amenities, to pursue a career in professional hockey.

Smith is arguably the most notable of that group, and with good reason. After starting at Jesuit, he transferred to The Gunnery prep school in Connecticut, where he earned Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year honors.

The Stars drafted him in 2007, making him the first Texas native to be drafted by the organization. After that, he played junior hockey in Penticton, British Columbia, where he finished second on the team with 67 points in 60 games in 2007-08.

Turns out Smith was just getting started.

While Jackson said the year in Canadian junior hockey was a positive one for his development, Smith truly broke out when he played collegiate hockey at Colgate University.

That’s where he proved to be one of the most dangerous scorers in the college game. During his four-year career, he scored 79 goals and assisted on 81 more for 160 points in 153 games. As a senior in 2011-12, as has been much publicized, Smith led the NCAA with 36 goals and was third in scoring with 57 points. Smith was one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, given to college hockey’s best player.

The fact that Smith became the best goal scorer in college hockey doesn’t surprise Jackson. Not based on what he’s seen since he first laid eyes on Smith.

“He’s one of the most determined kids we’ve ever had in our organization,” Jackson said. “He’s just relentless. He’s going to do anything he has to in order to be a player. It’s very refreshing to see.”

Smith has to be determined, because he knows the odds are against him. Most people will look at his 5-feet-11, 180-pound frame and think he’s much to small to be a real scoring threat at the NHL level.

Smith officially signed with the Stars after his collegiate career.

But dealing with those size limitations, Jackson said, won’t be a problem for someone with Smith’s mindset. It’s forced him to become a more complete player, but also does not hinder his ability to score.

The numbers speak to that directly.

“He’s undersized, but he plays big,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of things he can do, so you take him for what he can do and not for what he doesn’t have, which is a lot of size. But he plays the game with a lot of heart, he’s got good net instincts and he can score.

“He wasn’t always on a great team, so he had to become a real good two-way player too. Scoring was easy for him in college and junior hockey. But to be a good pro he’s had to learn to play both sides of the puck and he’s doing that.”

After finishing his collegiate career, Smith officially signed with the Stars this spring and joined their American Hockey League affiliate in Austin.

He played 12 games with the Texas Stars, posting three assists in his first real competition as a professional hockey player. He did fire 24 shots on goal, and though he didn’t find the net, it wasn’t because he wasn’t creating opportunities.

That’s what kept Texas Stars General Manager Scott White encouraged about Smith. Because even though the goals weren’t coming, the chances were.

“He’s a goal scorer who had a goal-a-game in college, so naturally he was getting frustrated when he wasn’t scoring goals,” White said. “I kept telling him, ‘If you weren’t getting chances, I would be concerned.’ But he was getting chances, he just has to learn that the defensemen are bigger and the goalies are bigger and better, and those shots have to be a little bit more precise to score at this level.”

Despite his scoring drought, White did see something else he really liked from Smith… Energy.

“Right away, he added energy and pace to our group,” White said. “He’s not a big guy. So he’s got to find his way around the bigger men, and that will come with a little more experience. But he has no fear at all. He goes to all the hard areas you have to go to in order to score goals.”

The question now is whether or not Smith will be going to those areas, and potentially scoring goals, for the Dallas Stars anytime soon.

Maybe not right away. But maybe not as far away as you think either. The bottom line, Jackson said, is seeing a continued progression from Smith with the Texas Stars before he makes it to the NHL. But based on what they’ve seen so far, there’s no reason to think it couldn’t happen at some point.

“He should go down to Austin and be a good player there,” Jackson said. “He’s got the instincts and the ability to score. I think it will come with time.”

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