Reilly Smith quietly becoming important part of Panthers’ winning ways

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

Making a good trade in any sport is fairly difficult, and making one for a player that is a consistent threat to the opposition is even more of a challenge. Unless you’re Dale Tallon. Even though Reilly Smith is just past the halfway point of his first season with the Panthers, it’s safe to say that Tallon can add him to the growing list of solid acquisitions he has made since first becoming a general manager back in 2005.

Reilly Smith was acquired from the Boston Bruins on July 1st, 2015 by the Panthers, and at the time, the cost appeared ugly: Jimmy Hayes, and we had to take on the contract of Marc Savard who hasn’t played since the 2010-11 season. Fans became worried that the Panthers had given up the young, big-bodied goal-scorer that the Panthers had been looking for.

What they didn’t realize is that the Panthers had gotten that and more from the Bruins. Smith already had 20- and 13-goal seasons under his belt and appeared to be primed for a breakout year whereas Hayes, who’s more of a one-dimensional player, would go missing for long stretches at a time before scoring again.

“Reilly is a young talented forward who adds skill, speed and versatility to our team,” said Dale Tallon when the deal was completed. “He’s really smart and can really skate.”

When we look at this Warrior chart comparing Smith (left) and Hayes (right), we’re able to see just how good Smith actually is. Overall, Smith is seeing ice-time that is typical of a 2nd line forward which is what you would expect considering he is in fact playing on the 2nd line with the Panthers. What makes things more impressive, however, is what he’s doing with that ice-time. His goals/60 is right where you’d expect it to be, but his metrics adjusted for ice-time (first assist/60 and primary points/60) are at the level you’d get from a 1st-liner, meaning Smith is incredibly productive when he’s on the ice.

His Corsi stats are also off the charts (not literally) for the amount of time he’s on the ice. What the 3 RelTM stats essentially mean is that when Smith is on the ice, him and his teammates are in the offensive zone often and getting lots of shots on the opposing net, and the opposition either has low offensive zone time or few shot attempts. These also show that he has a positive impact on the offensive production of his linemates. We don’t even have to look at the stats to see this, because the eye-test shows that Smith is a strong player in all 3 zones and is a threat offensively.

Jimmy Hayes’ stats are all around the 3rd-liner mark despite the fact that he receives almost the same amount of ice-time as Reilly Smith does. The stats show that Hayes doesn’t have much of an impact on the production of his linemates and his line doesn’t get many shot attempts while in the offensive zone.

Scoring-wise, it didn’t take long for Smith to prove his worth to the Panthers as he recorded 2 of the Panthers’ 7 goals in their home opener on October 12th against Philadelphia. He surpassed his goal total from last year already (13) in 34 fewer games and is on pace for a 25-season which would beat his career-high of 20 by 5 goals. He has added 3 power play goals and has 2 game-winning goals, both of which came in the past two games against Tampa and Chicago.

Smith also leads the Panthers in goals per 60 minutes with 1.11 at 5 on 5 meaning he’s one of the team’s best scorers at even strength which is also shown by the fact that he is tied for the team-lead in goals.

The 24-year old Toronto-native isn’t only a goal scorer, however. He typically plays on the Panthers’ top penalty-killing unit, and has been one of the key factor’s behind the Panthers’ 8th-ranked penalty kill percentage, a stat that’s up 15 spots and 3 percent from last year. Smith averages over 18 minutes of ice-time each night, and of that, he spends about 2 minutes and 15 seconds killing penalties.

“Whatever I can do to contribute on this team…if it’s putting the puck in the net or helping out on the penalty kill, y’know, I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do,” said Smith after Saturday night’s 5-2 victory over the Lightning.

There are two clips (although they’re from the same game) that sum up his season thus far very well:

No, the clip above isn’t sped up or edited in any way. This goal illustrates Smith’s strong skate ability, willingness to drive to the net, and scoring ability. We see this effort on a nightly basis and it doesn’t come as much of a surprise anymore (and that’s a good thing). You can also see how Jokinen holds onto the puck a draws both defensemen towards him, and they end up being flat-footed once Smith arrives on the scene with his speed. And for the record, I’m still not sure how he got that shot between Scott Darling and the post.

The above clip is a perfect example of how Reilly Smith is as much of a defensive player as he is an offensive player. He sees that Patrick Kane, who as of this writing leads the NHL in goals with 30, is wide open in the slot. Once Kane receives the pass from Artemi Panarin, he immediately begins to disrupt his stick and prevents him from getting a shot off.

It’s easy to see why the Panthers had interest in Smith. Maybe his play has been overlooked due to the likes of Aaron Ekblad, Aleksander Barkov, and Jaromir Jagr, or perhaps he’s performed so well that we’ve just gotten used to it in such a short amount of time. Either way, we should not fret about taking on Marc Savard’s contract, but instead be excited about what the future holds for Reilly Smith as well as the rest of the Panthers’ young core.

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