C.J. Smith has been recalled by the Buffalo Sabres, but can the winger translate his success at the AHL level to the NHL?
Since the 10-game winning streak earlier this season, the Buffalo Sabres have been on a terrible run of form, going 8-14-4 in their last 26 games. In the process, they have dropped from the top of the NHL standings to outside of the playoff bracket.
Fortunately for the Sabres, they are still in a position to challenge, although something has to change drastically to turn around their performances. And on Monday Phil Housley did just this at practice, by making major changes to all four lines, the top three pairings and both power play units.
Smith had been recalled from Rochester earlier on the Monday, a move which he thoroughly deserved. He is the Americans’ leading scorer this season at the time of posting, with 41 points (18 goals and 23 assists) in 41 games.
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The question is, can the 24-year-old translate his success in the AHL to the NHL level? In fairness, he has faced doubts ever since going undrafted out of college, and always responded positively.
In that respect, Smith scored his first ever NHL goal during his last appearance for the Sabres, in a 5-1 win against the New Jersey Devils last month. It proved to be a pivotal moment for him, as he then returned to the AHL and immediately scored a hat-trick in his first game back for the Amerks.
The Des Moines, Iowa native talked on Monday about how his last stint in the NHL galvanized him for his return to Rochester. As reported by Jason Wolf of The Buffalo News, he said:
"“I just went back with a lot of confidence. I think it kind of showed in my game down there, too. Obviously playing up here, it’s a little different pace and a little different level. I just wanted to go back down there and work hard and work for the guys down there in Rochester.”"
This speaks volumes about the mindset of Smith. He is now more determined than ever to prove himself at the highest level, and will get his next opportunity on Tuesday night against the Minnesota Wild in Buffalo.
There are still plenty of doubts about the winger’s ability to succeed in the NHL. These doubts center on his lack of size and elite talent.
However, you imagine this will all be music to Smith’s ears, after all the adversity he has faced. And while his ceiling might be a place in the bottom six, this would still be an excellent accomplishment for him.
In this respect, all that matters is how the Sabres view the UMass grad, with coach Housley being a big fan of his game. Again reported by Wolf, Housley said:
"“(Smith) deserves a shot to get back and an opportunity. I like what he brings, the spark and the speed and the skill. Obviously, he’s going to get an opportunity.”"
Certainly, Smith’s attitude and work ethic could be just what the other players needs, as the team attempts to keep themselves in realistic contention for a playoff berth. Regardless, he now has a golden opportunity to have an extended stay with the Sabres and prove he belongs in the NHL.
Do you see Smith having a future with the Buffalo Sabres? If so, what do you believe his realistic ceiling is at the NHL level? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.