Reilly Smith spent the early part of his NHL career bouncing around from team to team.
First it was two years with the Dallas Stars, where he played just 40 games and scored only three goals for the team that picked him in the third round of the 2009 draft.
Then Smith was shipped to the Boston Bruins, where he spent two years attempting to break through before being traded yet again prior to the 2015-16 season, this time to the Panthers.
It looks like this time he won’t be leaving any time soon.
A breakout season from the 25-year-old right wing resulted in a five-year, $25 million contract extension and a chance for Smith to find the stability he has been yearning for in his professional hockey career.
“We had a great locker room here last year, and I probably had one of the most fun times I’ve had playing hockey in my career,” Smith said. “When I had the opportunity to extend my contract and stay here for another five years, it was a no-brainer for me.”
After putting up average numbers during his first four seasons in the NHL, Smith made his mark early with the Panthers last season. The 6-foot, 185-pounder scored a career-high 25 goals and recorded 25 assists in the 82-game regular season while leading Panthers forwards who played at least 50 games in average ice time (18 minutes, 37 seconds per game).
“He came in last year kind of under the radar,” Panthers general manager Tom Rowe said. “I don’t think a lot of people realized how good he was, and then when you’re here every single night watching him, how smart he is, what a great defensive player he is and then you couple that with the offense, it makes it a real tough line to compete against.”
Smith stepped his game up in the postseason, scoring four goals and adding four assists during the first three games against the New York Islanders despite the Panthers losing the series and ending one of the franchise’s best seasons earlier than the team expected.
Smith said the players need to take it upon themselves to keep the team moving in the right direction.
“The ownership does their job by putting us in the place to succeed, and it’s our onus to fulfill that,” he said. “I think we did a good job last year, but I think that sets the bar to a certain standard, and I think it’s only higher now.”
With Smith back — along with five of the Panthers’ top six forwards from last season — and the team’s bottom-six forward group receiving an upgrade with the additions of Jonathan Marchessault and Colton Sceviour, the Panthers are aiming to build on last year’s offensive success.
They finished eighth in the league with an average of 2.84 goals per game, their highest total since averaging 2.99 goals per game during the 2006-07 season.
“If you’re going to win a Stanley Cup and if you’re going to win in this league, you have to have four lines that can play,” Rowe said.
Smith wants to help the Panthers accomplish that.
“I feel like I’ve found a home here in Florida,” Smith said.
“That means a lot. … I’m still fresh in my career, and I hope there’s a lot more good times still to come.”
The Panthers’ five-day development camp wrapped up Friday with a Red vs. White scrimmage and penalty shootout, an opportunity for the front office to gauge how well the 41 participants at camp would be in a live-game situation.
The teams combined to score 10 goals in the 50-minute event, with wingers Anthony Greco and Dryden Hunt each scoring twice.
“The first impression is huge,” Hunt said. “It was nice to score some goals out there because that’s kind of what I do.”
Goaltender Samuel Montembeault also had a solid outing, holding the White team scoreless for the first 23:30 he was in goal for while making a handful of difficult saves in the process.