More so than most, Reilly Smith is a player Vegas Golden Knights fans should be excited about.Two years ago he had arguably the best season of his six-year NHL career with the Florida Panthers. His head coach during that season? Gerard Gallant, the first bench boss in Vegas history.
It’s no accident that Smith and Gallant are reunited in southern Nevada. While many of the moves of this past offseason are curious, this one makes all the sense in the world. Fans of the Golden Knights are going to quickly learn why Smith, in particular, was brought to Vegas.
So read up. This guy is going to play an important role in the early history of hockey in Las Vegas. Beyond that, he may very well still be on a roster that could look markedly different by the time the Golden Knights are competitive.
How Did Reilly Smith Get Here?
Not every member of the inaugural Golden Knights squad was acquired via the entry or expansion drafts. Oh, no. General manager George McPhee’s team has been busy negotiating with the other 30 NHL clubs, dating back to the signing of KHL standout Vadim Shipachev in May.
Smith was part of an Expansion Draft-day deal that McPhee worked out with Panthers GM Dave Tallon. The deal was a straight salary dump for Florida. The Panthers shed the remainder of the five-year, $25 million contract Smith signed last summer. The return was a fourth-round draft pick next season.
The move was mutually beneficial. Smith clearly doesn’t fit into Florida’s long-term plans, not at that price anyway, as the Panthers continue to tread the waters of NHL irrelevancy.
At 26 years old, Smith is already well-traveled. He was a third-round pick of the Dallas Stars in 2009. He’d get his first crack at NHL competition during the 2011-2012 season, but the Stars parted ways with Smith after 40 games. He was shipped to Boston with Loui Eriksson, Joe Morrow, and Matt Fraser in exchange for Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley, and Ryan Button.
Boston is where Smith had his first taste of success. He played a full slate in 2013-14 and racked up 20 goals and 31 assists. In the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he logged four goals and an assist in 12 games for a Bruins squad that was bounced early by the Montreal Canadiens. The next season was not as successful. He missed just one game but saw his productivity drop to 13 goals and 27 assists. That Boston team was largely underwhelming. The Bruins missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.
Another trade, this one for Jimmy Hayes, and Smith’s chapter with the Panthers began. Like in Boston, his first season with Florida was good. The Panthers reached the playoffs for just the third time this century and Smith tallied 50 points for the second time in his career. Also, like in Boston, Smith fell back in season two. His 15 goals and 22 assists in 80 games made his contract a burden for Florida.
Where Does Smith Fit In?
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Smith will have the benefit of increased opportunities in Las Vegas.
It’s redundant and it’s true. The Golden Knights will likely take up residency at the bottom of the league standings, though not at the very bottom if you believe bookmakers. Either way, many of the players relocating to Vegas are getting the shot to rejuvenate their careers, or perhaps establish traction in this league for the first time.
Smith falls somewhere in between those groups. He’s cobbled together a couple of nice seasons in the league, but by most estimates has failed to realize his full potential. He’s a great player to have on the roster in that he’s a hard worker and asset in the locker room.
But the offensive numbers leave something to be desired. Vegas wants figures closer to those that Smith put up in his first seasons in Boston and Florida. And with the financial commitment the Golden Knights are investing in Smith, they’ll want a little more than that too.
That financial commitment is what will likely keep Smith in Vegas for awhile. The key to the Golden Knights in the Western Conference is success through the NHL Entry Draft. If Vegas is out of the playoff conversation come next year’s trade deadline, which many think they will be, it’s probable that McPhee will begin to move assets in exchange for future draft picks.
That’s a routine that Vegas fans would be well-advised to get familiar with—for the first couple seasons, anyway. Smith may be immune to that sort of exposure, though. To be attractive to a team angling for the postseason, he’d have to play well above what we’ve seen so far in his career to justify the money he’s owed. I suspect it’s a move that never happens. So while I’d caution falling in love with players who may not be in Vegas very long, Smith is a different story.
Buy the jersey.
Las Vegas local covering Golden Knights hockey since 2016.
Ball State University ’05
Credentialed NBA writer covering the Phoenix Suns,
Credentialed NCAA football writer covering the UNLV Rebels