How High Is Reilly Smith's Ceiling in 2013-14 With The Boston Bruins?

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How High Is Reilly Smith's Ceiling in 2013-14 With The Boston Bruins?
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

With his assist on Saturday’s clincher, Reilly Smith already has two more points through 16 games as a Boston Bruin than he collected in 40 ventures as a Dallas Star. The 22-year-old professional sophomore trails only David Krejci with nine helpers and is third on Boston’s leaderboard with 11 points.

It is worth cautioning that Smith is loading up his output amidst his second multi-game production streak of the autumn. In between his current four-game ride and a five-game tear in mid-October was a four-game cold spell to close out the previous calendar month.

The menace known as inconsistency remains a threat worth watching for, at least for the near future. Even if that proves an empty threat, it is difficult to envision Smith sustaining his present 82-game pace of 46 assists and 56 points for the balance of 2013-14.

That is not to say he cannot leave a sound imprint as a depth winger in what is looking increasingly like his first full NHL season. His quick mind and quick feet have been critical in the early going, and he can continue to help the team and himself if he gels those elements in with the newfangled third line.

The longer he fosters the faith of the Bruins coaching staff, the less his odds of warranting a retooling stint in Providence. (That already looks substantially less likely than it did even four weeks ago.)

Per ESPN Boston’s Joe McDonald, head coach Claude Julien said of Smith’s early impact, “He’s a young player that’s probably not been overlooked but kind of been in the shadow for a long time and he’s emerged with us here. He’s played a big role for us. He’s a real smart player. He’s creative, has good hockey sense and makes good plays.”

The better part of Smith’s first productive flare-up, circa Oct. 12-23, saw him pounce on an opportunity to supplant a frostbitten Brad Marchand on the second line. In four straight games, he shared credit with one or both of his linemates―Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson―on the same scoring play.

More recently, as a third-liner, he has thrice collaborated with fellow winger Carl Soderberg to set up the eventual goal-getter. The latest instance was on Bergeron's go-ahead strike, which constituted Smith's second power-play point, the other one coming the previous week versus the Islanders.

Time will tell as to whether he can be a man-up mainstay, though he would doubtlessly be welcomed if he proves he can fill that role with reasonable regularity.

Smith was the primary playmaker on Saturday night's decider against the Maple Leafs by virtue of hustling to the unoccupied post on the far point. From there, he let loose a low-flying shot that parented a rebound for Bergeron to bury.

Bruins bystanders already have seen that hustle of his reap rewards on multiple occasions through Smith’s first six weeks with the team. One noteworthy example was his first of two goals, both of which have come at the expense of the Florida Panthers.

In the final regulation minute of an Oct. 17 visit, after dishing a feed from behind the cage, Smith kept moving his feet to put himself in a position to polish off the play. In turn, although he was the goal scorer in this instance, he was also as good as an uncredited playmaker.

Within the past week, Smith has flaunted two examples of his long-distance crispness, one being on Saturday and the other occurring on Tuesday against his old allies from Dallas. In that contest, he helped Soderberg apply pressure deep in the zone and then positioned himself as the receiver-turned-giver, dishing a diagonal feed from the high slot to Torey Krug for a homeward-bound tip.

In between, while it did come against a plebeian Panthers squad that is near the cellar in team defense, he concocted his first two-point outing. He did his part to put away Florida in the third by setting fellow playmaker and third-line center Chris Kelly on a transition rush and later thrusting home an unassisted goal on an interception.

Future collaborations with Kelly will likely be Smith's topmost key to achieving his maximum potential this season. The pivot he is flanking has twice brushed barely below the 40-point plateau in his career, posting 38 with Ottawa in 2006-07 and 39 with Boston in 2011-12.

Right now, though, Kelly is seeking to start fresh with a new set of linemates and decompose the residue of a wretched 2012-13 campaign. He mustered a meager 3-6-9 scoring log in the regular season and three points in 22 playoff tilts before regular associate Rich Peverley was exported to Dallas.

In their lone full-length season as colleagues, Kelly achieved his career-high totals of 20 goals and 39 points. Peverley stamped 45 points in 2011-12 despite appearing in only 57 of the 82 games.

It will now be on Smith and Soderberg to replenish that sustained depth and ensure Kelly’s determination spawns a more favorable cycle than last year.

As his output stands at the 16-game mark (three goals and five points), Kelly is on pace to finish 2013-14 with a 15-10-25 transcript. A slight uptick is in order on his front as well as Soderberg’s (one goal and six points).

While there is a long-term need for more production from his presumptive partners, it is worth remembering that Smith's numbers would likely be closer to Kelly's and Soderberg's were it not for his stint with Bergeron and Eriksson. But because of where his data sits at the one-fifth mark, any final point total in the lower-to-mid-40s is a rational best-case scenario for this season.

Sustained self-confidence and trust from Julien on the power play will only embolden Smith's odds of settling in that mid-40s point range. Ditto, if need be, a repeat sugar rush in the event of another top-six emergency.

Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com

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