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2018-19 Player Review: Reilly Smith impresses again in second year with Golden Knights

The Karlsson line’s resident playmaker didn’t live up to last year’s production, but still had quite the season.

Vegas Golden Knights v San Jose Sharks - Game One
Reilly Smith of the Vegas Golden Knights skates against the San Jose Sharks in round one of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

In the 2018-19 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2018-19 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role.

Reilly Smith played a massive role of the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights team. He was a prominent fixture on the first line and made a huge impact as a playmaker, picking up 38 assists in 67 games. He also led the Golden Knights in points in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs with 22 (17 of which were assists) in 20 games. This season, Smith returned to the same line and made a similar impact. But between injuries and some bad luck, he didn’t score a point between Dec. 31 and Feb. 6.

Season in review

Smith was one of the best players on the Golden Knights’ roster this season, making his linemates (William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault) better. With Smith, Vegas’ first line had a 5-on-5 Corsi For percentage of 54.06. Without Smith, that number sunk to 50.00. Here are some more interesting numbers that prove Smith’s worth on the top line.

Reilly Smith and friends

Marchy and Karlsson Time On ice Corsi % Shot Share Goal Share Expected Goal Share High-Danger Share
Marchy and Karlsson Time On ice Corsi % Shot Share Goal Share Expected Goal Share High-Danger Share
With Smith 820:28:00 54.06 54.37 50.65 55.26 53.33
Without Smith 229:07:00 50 50.98 44.44 48.39 47.92
Playoffs With 78:37:00 59.01 62.96 100 60.87 52.94
Playoffs Without 10:30 50 44.44 N/A 46.71 75

Since the two arrived, Smith and Marchessault have complemented one another perfectly. Marchessault’s the better shooter, but Smith sets him up well. Marchessault brings the energy, and Smith brings the consistency. It works very well, and here’s visual proof:

Marchessault is better in the offensive areas where Smith is simply okay. Smith picks up the slack defensively where the smaller Marchessault isn’t quite as effective. Those two work very well together, and it’s more than just the fact they were both dumped by the Florida Panthers.

In the regular season, Smith had 1.5 primary points per 60 minutes and 1.92 points per 60. In the playoffs, he had .64 primary points per 60 and 1.27 points per 60. He also drew more penalties than he took in both the regular season and playoffs.

Moreover, Smith was especially useful on both special teams units. However, his presence — and absence — was particularly felt on the penalty kill. Vegas’ PK was a well-oiled machine with him on the ice. Without him, though, the unit was below average. Again, that’s mostly a product of his playmaking.

Smith is good enough defensively to get the puck and push it up ice where he, Marchessault and Karlsson can take advantage of it. There’s a reason that the Karlsson trio was better once Smith got going this season.

Smith isn’t perfect, however. His 53 points in 74 games was somewhat of a disappointment following his big 2017-28 campaign. After shooting 13.6 percentage last season, he only found twine on 10.7 percent of his shots this season.

But the same thing that has made Smith so valuable in the regular season and throughout the postseason last year is the same thing that made him valuable this season — that passing ability. Smith is, if not the best, one of the best playmakers on the Golden Knights’ roster. That, in combination with his defensive prowess, has made him key piece for the Golden Knights.

Standout moment

Smith had two standout moments this season, among a field of highlights. Both prove how valuable he has been to the Golden Knights, both in the regular season and the playoffs. Both highlights came against the Golden Knights’ now-biggest rival, the San Jose Sharks.

The first comes from the regular season, on March 18. In the third period, Smith put the Sharks essentially to bed with this goal, which made it 5-2.

Smith had four points on those five goals, which wound up being the most points he’d scored in a single game in his career. After picking up a trio of helpers, Smith then ended his tremendous game with this goal, which came from a crazy angle. Not that that made much of a difference.

The second play came shorthanded in the playoffs.

Smith makes a fantastic play after retrieving the puck in his own end, hitting Karlsson mid-stride in the midst of a breakaway. The pass sets Karlsson up perfectly and Wild Bill made no mistake getting the puck past the goaltender. Smith has made multiple highlight-reel plays while shorthanded in his brief Golden Knights career so far, and this was another.

Looking ahead

It’s hard to imagine Smith not being back on the Knights’ 2019-20 roster. Look for Smith to again be a consistent presence on both the power play and penalty kill, perhaps building chemistry with Mark Stone on both units. Not a bad combination in either zone!

Smith should take a step forward and replicate the production we saw from him in his first season with Vegas. That’s not guaranteed, however, because Smith has never spent more than two full seasons with a single team. Now, he should get a chance to do so. He’s earned it.