Although the Panthers have been relatively quiet overall this offseason, they did make one move that will certainly affect the roster come opening night. The acquisition of Reilly Smith infused the team with even more youth and talent than before, and while we already know who he is, the big question is how will he fit in with the Panthers this year?
It began with suspense. Out of seemingly nowhere, Harvey Fialkov of the Sun-Sentinel tweeted simply, “Panthers trade coming” just before 6 PM on July 1st, and the entire Panthers Twitter world went nuts. The last time this happened was at the midway point of last season when the Cats sent Drew Shore to the Calgary Flames for Corban Knight just before the two teams were set to face off in what would end up being a high goal-scoring affair. But this time, things were slightly different. The Panthers were known to be looking for a top-6, goal-scoring winger, and at the same time, they were rumored to have been dangling then-restricted free agent Jimmy Hayes in front of teams at the 2015 Draft. Hayes was reportedly requesting an expensive multi-year contract after two seasons of decent, but inconsistent production and after coming off a one-year deal he received through arbitration in July of 2014. After word got out that Hayes was involved in a deal with Boston, fans speculated as to whether it’d be right-winger Loui Eriksson or Reilly Smith to be sent to Florida.
Then, the full trade came through thanks to insider Pierre LeBrun and he let it be known just after 6 PM that Reilly Smith would be the newest Panther while Jimmy Hayes would don the jersey of his hometown Boston Bruins. In the end, the trade seems to have worked out in that both teams added a player that fits in with what they already have. Let’s take a closer look at Smith to see how exactly that will work for the Panthers.
Reilly Smith measures in at 6’0″, 185 pounds which puts him sort of in the middle in terms of how he compares to the size of other players in the team. Although he’s not going to overpower the opponent with his size, he will overpower it in different ways by being in the right place at the right time which he has a knack for doing. His average size allows him to protect the puck well enough to be effective which he does both in this goal and this goal. Skating-wise, he’s not going to be the fastest player on the ice, but his skating ability is above average and he can get by the opposition like he did here. When it comes to his offensive ability, Smith is above average and probably slightly better than Jimmy Hayes in that Smith is more of a top-6 player. Smith will make plays and generate offense from anywhere in the offensive zone whereas Hayes would more than likely be found in front of the net trying to score a dirty goal.
With Boston, Smith was often used as the fourth forward on the powerplay this past season and typically set up along the blueline, so this will gives the Panthers options considering the four forwards setup backfired on them several times last season. The season before that, he set up at one of the faceoff circles and scored several times on cross-ice passes. His CF% (Corsi For percentage) was 54.98% last season in 5v5 situations meaning when he’s on the ice, there were typically more shots towards the opponents net than his when he was on the ice. Of course, Smith played on a line with Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron so that certainly helped his cause, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Smith is effective at both ends of the rink. The fact that he has an above average wrist shot, knows where to go to score goals, and is often in the right place at the right time means he’s likely poised for another season of at least 40 points. With the Panthers, the most likely spot for him would be the 2nd-line right-wing position with Nick Bjugstad and Brandon Pirri, the same spot he played for the Bruins last year. The line will have a good combination of size, scoring, and playmaking ability. The 3rd line probably would be ideal for Smith in that he wouldn’t be in as much of an offensive role as he should be in, but it would be a possibility if a guy like Rocco Grimaldi had an incredible training camp.
Smith recently spoke with FloridaPanthers.com and mentioned how the everyone in the league knew that the Panthers were a tough team to play against and also said, “it’s an exciting time to be a part of this team and this organization because it seems like they are on the up-and-up.” Players and outsiders are beginning to notice the Panthers and the strong, young nucleus of talent they possess. The Panthers’ plan for success is beginning to take shape.
And most importantly, Reilly Smith stated that he does in fact believe that a hotdog is a sandwich when he took to Twitter the other day to answer some fan questions:[tweet https://twitter.com/FlaPanthers/status/638745602063515648]