Reilly Smith had just finished up his Junior year with Miami University and had earned a nomination for the Hobey Baker Award (the award given to the top NCAA hockey player) when Dallas Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk signed the 20-year old to a three year entry level contract. The signing, which took place on March 25th, 2012, paved the way for Smith to make an immediate jump to the NHL and join the team the very next day. The move surprised fans who expected Smith to follow the same path other collegiate Dallas Stars prospects were following, heading down to Austin to help the AHL’s Texas Stars finish up a disappointing season, giving them their first taste of professional hockey in preparation for the 2012-2013 season. Instead, Nieuwendyk took a risk, giving the young winger the opportunity to make an impact at the NHL level, and in the process, burning an entire year off of his entry level contract.
When it comes to the label of “hit” or “miss”, Reilly Smith is not nearly as clear cut as any other hit or miss we’ve done before. Lets focus on the pros of the decision; firstly, Nieuwendyk willing to take the risk says a whole lot about what management thinks of Smith as a player. The decision caused cautious optimism and excitement to spread among the fans, with many media outlets comparing it to Nieuwendyk’s own experience, who jumped to the NHL in a very similar way. To make a connection between Smith and one of the most important players to ever wear a Stars uniform is premature at best, but Stars fans were in a position where optimism was needed. The potential infusion of talent would be a boon to a Stars team that was on the precipice of another late season collapse that would cause them to miss the playoffs. Unfortunately, as we all know, the Stars did collapse and they did miss the playoffs for a fourth straight year.
That leads us to the cons of the decision. It became quickly apparent that Glen Gulutzan controlled the product on the ice, and he didn’t appear to be nearly as high on Reilly Smith as Joe Nieuwendyk was. Smith saw his first NHL action in a game versus the Edmonton Oilers on March 28th, three days after signing his contract, and saw exactly 4:05 of ice time spread out over five shifts. Alright, we all thought, he was just ‘getting his feet wet’ and he’d see more ice time versus Vancouver two days later. Well, we were right about that, but with an increased fourteen shifts and 8:39 of ice time, Smith had a -3 with one shot to show for it. The Reilly Smith experiment came to a grinding halt after that game, as the Stars went into panic mode, watching the playoffs fall out of their grasp one game at a time.
Smith saw action in one more game, along with numerous other prospects, in the meaningless last game of the season versus the St. Louis Blues, a game that turned out to be uneventful. Looking back on it now, I’d have to lean toward this decision being a MISS. Smith got an important taste of professional hockey, but heading into training camp, he isn’t at all a guarantee to make the opening night roster. It could simply be that he’s just not ready for the NHL, or perhaps this upcoming season he shows what Nieuwendyk saw and surprises everyone. Either way, the decision to bring him up early, burning an entire year of his contract for three games, was nothing more than an experiment that didn’t pan out. The future is still bright for the former Miami Redhawk and whether he’s with the Texas Stars or the Dallas Stars, fans shouldn’t be any less excited to see what kind of player Reilly Smith can turn into.
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