With the Expansion Draft just around the corner, the Florida Panthers need to decide which forwards they’d like to protect. One in particular who should be protected is Reilly Smith.
Let’s remind ourselves the rules of the Expansion Draft. You have two options when it comes to protecting your own players. Firstly, you can go with seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender. Or secondly, you can protect eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goalie. For the Cats, the first option makes much more sense and is likely the decision they will make.
In terms of Reilly, he had a disappointing season this year. Now this isn’t to say that he was the only one who had a bad year. Many others were disappointing as well. Not just Smith. When he first arrived in Florida, it was quite obvious how well he adapted with his new team. That season (2015-16), Smith went on to score 25 goals, which resulted in 50 points. That year turned out to be the second best year in terms of points, only trailing the 2013-14 season with Boston (51 points).
Last season (2016-17) seemed to be a struggle for Reilly. He started the season off slow, struggling to find the back of the net. He wasn’t playing like himself at all, as the majority of his shots sailed over the net. Even the clear-cut chances he had in front of goal still weren’t good enough either. Nothing was going in for Smith, and he just couldn’t buy a goal.
When it comes down to protecting forwards, it seems that will take “route A”, which will allow us to protect seven forwards. Despite Reilly’s inconsistency, he must be one of the seven forwards chosen to be protected. At age 26, he has shown his ability to score and set up plays. When Smith is hot, he’s hot. There’s no stopping him. When he’s cold, he’s unfortunately cold. As we saw this past year.
While his scoring ability may be inconsistent at times, he has proven worthy on different aspects of his game. For instance, the penalty kill. When Reilly is on the PK, you notice a difference out there. Smith often roams around causing lots of problems for his opponents. He is notorious for breaking up plays, getting his stick in the passing lane, and scoring short-handed goals.
That isn’t all in terms of special teams. Smith can also play on the power-play. Not just as a forward, but as a defenseman on the point as well. During the year, Reilly was often put on the point when on the PP. His instructions were simple. When the lane was clear for a shot, shoot and get the puck on net. While he missed a lot of shots during the year, he also grabbed a few goals off the PP. He will need to improve his accuracy over the summer, but it really isn’t something I would worry too much about.
Him, Trocheck, and Jokinen have all bonded well together while on the ice. The trio performed very well during the 2015-16 season. That line (2nd line) was one of the reasons why the Cats made it to the playoffs and finished as Atlantic Division champions. Unfortunately, it was tough to get the trio back together due to the amount of injuries we faced. It led to them all taking upon new roles, in absence of our injured players. When those three are all together at full force, they’re literally impossible to stop.
Overall, Reilly smith is an important piece to the puzzle. Losing him would not only hurt the second line, but the team as well. He has adapted very well during his time here and should be kept despite the year he had last season. If he works on his shot (accuracy primarily) over the summer and generates a new shooting routine that works, then I won’t be surprised to see the old Reilly back to his good old self.