The Dallas Stars made a big splash on their day off, announcing just a few minutes ago that they have signed prospect Reilly Smith to a three-year entry-level deal. But the big news is not that the Stars have signed one of their top prospects, but that Reilly will immediately join the NHL club on their roadtrip and he could play as soon as tomorrow night. It was expected that he might sign a deal with the Stars and go pro after Miami University (Ohio) was knocked out of the NCAA tournament on Friday. While Reilly had one more season of college eligibility left, many believed that the RedHawk captain would go pro after this season.
Reilly was the Stars’ 3rd round pick back in 2009 and he has developed into a promising youngster. At 20, Smith won the Central Collegiate Hockey Association scoring title for the second year in a row and he finished with 30 goals in 39 games overall, second in the NCAA to only fellow Stars’ prospect Austin Smith (36 goals in 39 games). Both are up for the Hobey Baker Award, the award given to college hockey’s best player. But while Austin Smith (5th round pick in 2007) made his pro debut with the Texas Stars this week, the organization and General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk must think Reilly is ready to make the jump to the NHL right away.
The Dallas Stars play next tomorrow in Calgary as they will start a four-game roadtrip by ending a home-and-home set with the Calgary Flames. Now the question is where Reilly will fit in or if he will even play right away. To answer the question as to if he will play, yes. Maybe not Monday night, but there is no reason for the franchise to launch him right up to the NHL roster for him to sit out and watch down this final stretch. If they have decided to bring him all the way up, they he will some playing time and could see some different situations. At 6’1″ and 183 pounds, he does have some decent size right away and he will not be a tiny kid playing against giants. But he will continue to grow a little and will likely add on a few pounds as he adjusts to pro-level hockey.
What might dictate where he fits in is his abilities on the offensive end. Smith is not just a sniper, but a goal-scorer that can create and find goals from all over the offensive zone. What is also impressive is the season he had. His 48 points and leadership were a big part of why Miami again had a great regular season after losing a few noticeable stars last season. He was by far the best player. Now the Stars have to figure out where to play him and over who. The Stars are already juggling Jake Dowell, Tomas Vincour, Ryan Garbutt, and Toby Petersen for the last spot or two in the line-up, and adding Reilly only throws another piece into the puzzle. But what Reilly has over all of them is the offensive upside and prowess. Vincour can be sent down the Texas Stars and we might see that happen this week, but otherwise everyone else will stay with the Dallas Stars until the end of the regular season. With Adam Burish playing on the second line with Jamie Benn and Steve Ott yesterday, it is conceivable that the Stars could try Smith next to Benn and slide Burish back down into the bottom-six where he belongs. Even if for a game or two, they might try it to see what he has and if he can add some offensive firepower as they fight for a playoff spot and the Pacific Division. If that doesn’t work, then I figure we could see him slid into the mix with everyone else fighting for playing time on the bottom lines.
No matter where he plays in these final games, it again shows that GM Joe and the Stars are set in their ways and will keep to the road they picked, just like they have said they would. The Stars want and need the playoffs right now, but the Stars will only get better over the next few years. Watch for Reilly Smith to possibly be a big part of that.