BOSTON — It seems incredible given how things have worked out, but winger Reilly Smith wasn’t even assured a spot on the Boston Bruins’ roster during training camp less than three months ago.
Indeed, there seemed a three-man competition for the vacant third-line spot, with Smith, Nick Johnson and Matt Fraser all in the running.
“Absolutely there was doubt,” Smith said. “There were a lot of guys going for the same spot. For sure that was in question. The basic thing in my mind was just to try and make the team.”
Now the 22-year-old Smith has gone from being the last forward to earn a roster spot to being one of the most important players on the team.
His goal and two assists in Monday night’s 6-2 victory against the Nashville Predators gave him seven goals and four assists in the last nine games.
With 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in 37 games, he trails only David Krejci (7-25-32) on the Bruins’ scoring list. That from a guy who last season had just three goals and six assists in 37 games for the Dallas Stars.
Smith’s unexpected production has lessened the loss of Tyler Seguin, who’s enjoying a fine season with the Stars, and the subpar start and back-to-back concussions that have limited Loui Eriksson.
So did Smith really expect to have such success?
“You go into the season with high expectations,” he said. “I probably didn’t expect to have had this much success this fast. They’re giving me a great opportunity here. I’m just trying hard not to squander it.”
Smith knows that hot streaks can turn cold very quickly. Of all the Bruins, he, above all, might have been willing to keep playing instead of shutting down for the three-day Christmas break.
“You go through hot streaks, you go through cold streaks,” Smith said. “So it’s important to keep doing the little things right because you can hit a cold streak just as fast as a hot streak. You can go in the completely opposite direction.
“I’m just trying to keep it simple right now, keep the basics and keep working hard. It’s working out so far.”
Also working mighty well: the chemistry Smith has enjoyed with Carl Soderberg on the Bruins’ second power-play unit. Soderberg has made sweet passes to set up four power-play goals by Smith, all on similar cross-ice passes from the low right to the low left, which were quickly banged home by Smith.
Did the former Miami (Ohio) star have faith in himself that he could play as he has so far?
“You’ve got to have that belief,” Smith said. “If you don’t, you’ll never have the chance to reach your goals. I hoped for a breakout season like this. So far it’s going well.”
The play of Smith has been one of the key reasons the Bruins have been able to prosper despite the recent epidemic of manpower losses. The Bruins have gone 7-2 in their last nine with a home-and-home against Ottawa on tap after the break. In a larger sample, they are 13-4-1 in their last 18 and 12-0-2 in their last 14 home games.
A slew of Providence call-ups have settled in, gained confidence and performed better and better. Center Ryan Spooner is Exhibit A; he picked up three assists in Monday’s game and has seven in 10 games.
All in all the season is shaping up well for last year’s Stanley Cup finalists. They will start to get healthy now and should have plenty of room for improvement. And proven depth.
“We like the way we’ve played so far,” center Patrice Bergeron said. “Obviously we can’t be satisfied; that’s the last thing you want to do. We have to keep improving, but right now we’re fighting through some adversity pretty well, and we’ve got to find a way to keep the ball rolling.”