Dale Tallon was quoted as saying this week that even after trading for forwards Jerred Smithson and Wojtek Wolski, he was not done making deals before the deadline. Now a Panthers fan has to wonder if another deal is even necessary.
Both Smithson and Wolski had very impressive opening nights for the Panthers in their thrilling 3-2 shootout victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. Both players performed as advertised, and both also inserted a few extra bonuses into their games.
Jerred Smithson was basically acquired for a bag of pucks (6th round pick) as the hockey saying goes by Tallon two days ago. The purpose of his being brought to South Florida was just to shore up the back two lines, work hard on the penalty kill, and win key faceoffs. He essentially was supposed to insert himself into the roster spot of John Madden until the wily veteran returns from injury. In the games against Carolina, Smithson was able to do just that, as he showed responsibility on defense and capability with the puck.
But one thing that surprised me about his game was his breakout ability: on more than one occasion Smithson led a high energy breakout out of the zone. He started a good rush in overtime, and maybe his finest moment came via a great pass right off the boards right on the tape of Kris Versteeg’s stick. Versteeg and Barch nearly hooked up for a goal only a few seconds later. And one other thing that can’t be overlooked is the role he played in the Panthers scoring the game’s tying goal with less than two minutes left. After being rewarded with some late ice time by his new coach, Kevin Dineen, Smithson went straight for the net upon his teammates entering the zone. Even though Wolski would score the game-tying goal, Smithson was just as responsible for how it went in. Smithson drew Gleason to the front of the net to battle with him, and doing that effectively shielded Justin Peters from seeing the puck, and the puck was also deflected into the net by Gleason’s leg. If Smithson isn’t at the front of the net, there’s no screen or deflection, no goal, and the Panthers are probably looking at another loss.
Wojtek Wolski’s contributions certainly should be lauded as well. Panther fans should be excited about what the Pole can bring to the table offensively, and maybe Dale Tallon won’t have to scrounge around for any more firepower after all.
All throughout the game, Wolski seemed totally knowledgeable about what was going on around him, even after playing only a handful of games with the Rangers so far this year. It looked like with the passes he made, Wolski had been practicing with his linemates Shawn Matthias and Mike Santorelli for weeks, not minutes. Even without the puck, Wolski was effective back checking and using his stick to break up plays. His long arms and stick did well poke checking all night.
Wolski’s clutch goal in the third should be celebrated by Panther fans, but what really should get them excited is Wolski’s shootout ability. In his first attempt as a Panther, Wolski made a great effort with a sick one-handed try, but Peters stayed on him. Even though this one didn’t get into the net, fans should recognize the enormous raw talent that Wojo has up his sleeve. He’ll make his fair share by the end of the season.
Overall, these two pickups could be what puts the Panthers over the edge on their playoff run. If Wolski and Smithson can keep up their performance so far, we could have two seriously good players on our hands in South Florida.
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