The last week of March was a wild ride for Dallas Stars prospect Reilly Smith, who in less than one week went from playing hockey in college to suiting up in the best league in the world.
“It was pretty crazy,” Smith said.
On March 23, Smith played in what would be his final college game as Miami University lost to UMass Lowell in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Connecticut.
Two days later, he signed a three-year entry level contract with the Stars.
And three days after that, on March 28, he was on the ice at Rexall Place in Edmonton, playing in his first National Hockey League Game.
“It was kind of tough to swallow everything that was going on, but I did my best,” Smith said. “I just tried to take care of every moment, just be able to take it in and have a great time. I’ve had some time to sit back and think about it, and it was an amazing time in my life.”
That first game was an amazing experience as well for Smith. He played 4:05 in the game and had one shot on goal in a 3-1 Dallas victory.
“Even though I played only four minutes,” Smith said, “just being in Edmonton and having so much history around you, it was a phenomenal experience. “
Smith spent about two weeks with the Stars and played in three games. He registered no points and two shots on goal. The time in the NHL was brief, but it was valuable experience.
“It really opened my eyes,” Smith said. “Going from college to playing in the NHL was night and day. It makes sense. They’re the best players in the world.”
It was a big jump from college, where Smith played for three years at Miami University in Ohio and put up impressive offensive numbers. In 121 career games he registered 122 points (66 goals, 56 assists) and a plus-63 rating. Last season Smith, a third round pick (69th overall) in 2009, ranked second in the nation with 30 goals in 39 games and tied for tenth in the nation with 48 points.
“Reilly has been a really good player from the time we drafted him. He had a good college career. He’s been a good player at every level he’s played,” said Les Jackson, Dallas Stars Director of Player Personnel. “It was nice that he got into a few games in Dallas to give him a preview of what the NHL is all about and to see what it takes to play at that level.”
The 21-year-old Smith has been hard at work this summer, taking what he learned at the NHL level late last season and trying to improve in several areas.
“It really is everything,” he said. “I try to focus mainly on the mental aspect and the physical. Obviously, I have to get bigger and stronger. That will come with maturity. The mental aspect is just being able to feel comfortable at that level, not being scared and intimidated by the players you’re playing against.”
|Smith on the Stars bench during the last home game of the 2011-12 season. |
Smith made big strides in his physical development during his three years in college. When the Stars drafted him in 2009, he was listed at 157 pounds. When he left college he was listed at 6-0, 185 pounds.
“In college you have a structured program where you have an opportunity to work out,” said J.J McQueen, Dallas Stars Player Development Coordinator. “You play two games a week and you have time to train. He took advantage of that. Each year he has gotten stronger and stronger. He’s actually a lot stronger than he looks.”
And Smith has put on more weight since the end of last season, weighing in at 192 pounds at the Stars’ development camp last month.
“I hope I can put on a few more pounds before training camp,” said Smith.
The Ontario native, a skilled left-handed shot who can play left wing or right wing, should get a good look in training camp this fall. The Stars have openings for younger players and Smith, obviously, would love to grab one of those spots.
“That’s my main goal, to come in and show that I deserve to be there,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of work. There are a lot of great players going for that same position, so I am going to work my best and see how it plays out.”
This will be his first full professional season, so starting with the Texas Stars in the AHL could be an option as well, giving him ample playing time and an opportunity to get acclimated to the pro game. Either way, the Stars believe Smith has all the attributes of a good NHL player.
“It’s just a matter of him adjusting to the pro game. He’s got all the tools offensively, he’s got the attitude and he works,” said Jackson. “He’s an intriguing player. He’s got great hands, excellent instincts, he knows how to play and he has a great upside offensively. He’s going to be fun and interesting to watch.”