In the preseason, Chris Kelly was asked about his new teammate Reilly Smith, who would open the season playing on Kelly's wing.
“If only I could get Reilly to talk a little more, then he’d be perfect,” Kelly said, his dry humor on display.
Now playing on the second line, Smith is speaking plenty with his play.
The 22-year-old has points in four straight games (1-3—4) since moving up to play with Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson. The skill set and hockey sense that made Smith a third-round pick in 2009 is coming out next to his talented linemates.
On Saturday night, Smith was the tac on a pretty tic-tac-toe goal by Bergeron in the second period. As Eriksson carried the puck into the offensive zone, Smith created space by lagging back, then quickly hit a cutting Bergeron as he approached the net. Simple play, easy result, right?
Playing with Bergeron and Eriksson puts Smith back on the left wing, his natural position. A left shot, he was plugged into the open right wing spot on the third line to open the season, but looks more comfortable on the left side.
The Bruins are working with Smith to be more aggressive. Joining a veteran team that’s been to the Stanley Cup Final twice in three years, it's easy to see why Smith may be deferential to veterans like Kelly and Bergeron. Smith may have grown up in a household where kids only spoke when spoken to.
But the Bruins don’t want Smith to watch and learn from his elders; he can contribute now, and as a top-six forward for the last three games, he’s expected to.
Smith has the potential to be a goal-scorer. He had 58 goals in his last two years at Miami University and 14 in 45 AHL games with the Texas Stars last year. He's got a quick shot and knows how to make space to get it off.
The coaching staff has emphasized to Smith that it’s OK to be selfish. In seven games, the Toronto native has just one game with more than one shot on goal.
He may have reached a turning point Thursday at Florida. Smith scored the winning goal in the final minute to beat Tim Thomas and the Panthers, knocking in a loose puck through Thomas’ 5-hole. It was a gritty goal, something Smith was acclaimed for over the summer after he was traded from the Stars to the Bruins in the Tyler Seguin/Eriksson trade.
Smith had a rough night before that against the Panthers, looking out of place at times, but seemed to gain confidence from the GWG.
Now with the Smith-Bergeron-Eriksson line producing (combined 10 points in 10 periods together), there’s little reason to move Brad Marchand back up as he continues to search for the right emotional engagement.
At the least, Smith has earned the right to talk a little bit more.