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Reilly Smith Accepts Responsibility for His Underwhelming Penguins Debut Season

The first significant offseason acquisition made by Pittsburgh Penguins president of hockey operations and general manager Kyle Dubas following his appointment to head the team’s front office was the winger Reilly Smith, who was acquired just before the NHL Draft last year.

It seems wise to acquire Smith from the Vegas Golden Knights in return for a 2024 third-round selection.

However, Smith—who has a $5 million annual salary cap impact and is signed through 2024–2025—turned out to be one of the Penguins’ biggest disappointments in the end.

Smith was a founding member of the Golden Knights from their first season of play in 2017–18, when he scored 26 goals for the team and helped them win their first Stanley Cup.

On paper, Smith seemed to have the depth the Penguins needed in the top six scoring options.

Sadly, Smith and the Penguins had to endure many lengthy scoring droughts (of 15, 11, and 13 games) before he finished with just 13 goals, which is just half of what he scored in his last season with Vegas.

“Frustrating. Obviously, (I) didn’t live up to my own standard or expectation that I wanted to,” Smith remarked, “So those things, they’re hard to swallow.”

It appeared as though Dubas had struck gold when he acquired Smith at the beginning of the season.

Smith flourished, scoring six goals in the first ten games of the season while starting on the Penguins’ second line alongside Rickard Rakell as left wing to Evgeni Malkin.

After that, his output decreased dramatically.

Following a multi-goal performance against San Jose on November 2, Smith was unable to score again for over a month.

“Reilly Smith (had a) great start to the year with (Malkin) and (Rakell), especially when (Rakell) wasn’t doing well,” Dubas remarked. “Then, from mid-November on, (Rakell) was hurt, (Malkin) wasn’t as good and I thought that affected Reilly. Very different linemates than what he played with in Vegas, (Jonathan) Marchessault and (William) Karlsson, so big adaptation for him.”

This season, Smith appeared in 76 games with 16 minutes, 8 seconds of ice time each night and was a frequent feature of the team’s power play.

To be fair, Smith’s total of 27 assists was only three short of what he had with Vegas two seasons prior and was largely in line with his career average.

However, it was anticipated that he would be a key member of the Penguins’ top six.

As the season progressed, Smith—along with youngster Valtteri Puustinen—saw the most time on the team’s third line, which included Lars Eller on the left wing.

“I thought that was a better fit for Reilly, to kind of get him back up and rolling,” stated Dubas. “In talking to him, he knows he wasn’t as good as he was last year. Certainly, he was an excellent player on a Stanley Cup-winning team. But I think if you look at his history, I would expect a big bounceback from him next season.”

Smith didn’t exactly see an increase in goal scoring after switching linemates.

After being held scoreless for over a month, he scored his last goal of the season on April 15 against Nashville.

Dubas and head coach Mike Sullivan probably anticipated 20 goals or more, a mark that Smith has hit five times in his eleven full-season NHL NHL seasons.

Smith, 33,’s inability to score at such a high rate raises concerns about whether he will be able to earn more money in his final season of contract next season.

To his credit, Smith accepted responsibility for his personal inadequacies both during the season and after it ended without the Penguins earning a postseason spot.

Smith goes back to the drawing board as the offseason begins.

Smith advised, “You have to just look into the summer and try to fix the things that didn’t go your way,” “Thankfully, there’s a long summer, and there’s a lot of things I can learn from.”

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