Reilly Smith has been a goal scorer at every level he’s played, but notching that first goal at the professional level has proven to be a challenge. Smith is taking it in stride and knows that it is just a matter of time before the goals start to come.
“There have been some ups and downs,” Smith said of his first month with the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League. “Obviously, I would like to produce a little bit more to help our team win. But it’s early in the season and hopefully I can get out of the slump a little bit.”
Eleven games into his AHL career, Smith is still looking for that first goal. He’s had his opportunities, but a tough bounce here and a sharp save there have kept him out of the goal scoring column.
“It’s been a while, since the end of last year. It’s definitely been one of the longest (droughts) of my career, but hopefully I can end it soon,” said Smith. “The good thing is I am still getting a lot of chances and hopefully they’ll go into the back of the net.”
Smith has three assists this season, including a nice one to set up a Tomas Vincour goal over the weekend. He also scored a slick shootout goal in Texas’ 5-4 loss to Lake Erie on Saturday. Those were glimpses of Smith’s skill level.
Despite the limited production so far this season, Texas Stars head coach Willie Desjardins likes what he has seen from the 21-year-old Smith, a third round pick (69th overall) by Dallas in the 2009 NHL Draft.
“He’s a really good young player,” said Desjardins. “He’s smart and he handles the puck really well. I like his vision. He has great vision. I think it has taken him a little while to adjust to the league. I thought he might adjust a little quicker, but that is not a bad thing. He will be a good player.
“It’s different when these guys come from college, where they’ve played so much and have had so much success. Sometimes it can be hard on their confidence, but I think that will come and he needs to just keep working through it.”
Smith spent three seasons at Miami University in Ohio, where he registered 122 points (66 goals, 56 assists) in 121 games. Last season, he scored 30 goals in 39 games, ranking second in the nation to his Texas teammate Austin Smith, and his 48 points were 10th-most among NCAA players.
Like any player making the jump to the professional ranks, Smith has had to adjust to playing at a higher level.
“It’s the decision making,” Smith said. “The decision making is a lot different than it is in college. People make a lot smarter plays, they don’t give up the puck as much. They are just better with the puck and smarter with it, and I’ve had to adjust to that.”
Smith, a left-handed shot who can play either wing, has played left wing this season with Texas. He’s spent the first part of the season on a line with center Cody Eakin and Vincour, two players who have spent time in the NHL.
“It helps a lot because they are usually in the right spot and make the right passes, so learning off what they are doing on a daily basis – their decisions with the puck – helps a lot,” said Smith.
Smith has fit in well with Eakin and Vincour, who are co-leading the Stars in scoring so far this season with nine points each in eleven games.
“He has a lot of talent, a lot of skill,” said Eakin. “He works hard. He’s a real crafty player.”
Off the ice, Smith said, the transition to life as a pro has gone well. Three years of college helped prepare him for living on his own. And the schedule of the professional life is suiting him just fine.
“I think the biggest change is just the amount of time you have,” he said. “I felt like I was always on the move in college with classes and everything going on all the time. Now, you are never in a rush. That’s a good feeling. I like it a lot.”
Now it’s just a matter of getting that good feeling of putting some pucks in the net. Smith’s scoring drought has mirrored that of the team, as Texas has struggled to score early in the season. The chances have been there, but the puck hasn’t bounced their way at times. The Stars turned it around their last couple games and the hope is Smith isn’t far behind.
“Sometimes you come in with the expectations that it is going to happen and it’s the worst thing you can do,” said Desjardins. “It builds itself and then it gets to be kind of a snowball. He’ll be fine, he’s a good player.”