Going into his 18th season, Evgeni Malkin has seen all kinds of linemates over the years. Some have been better than others, some worked and some weren’t with Malkin or in Pittsburgh all that long altogether. Sometimes he’s found fits by accident via injury, and another time famously with the “HBK line”, he found his wingers poached away due to an injury of his own.
The next chapter for Malkin’s linemates will have a lot to do with Reilly Smith. It’s only been three practices in camp but the initial reports have been encouraging for seeing some instant chemistry with one another.
“He’s a Stanley Cup champion. I hope he shows me his ring,” Malkin said after practice yesterday. “We try to play together right now. We try to understand each other. He’s a very smart, very fast forward. Great experience.”
The good thing about Smith is that he is just good at everything. He’s listed at 6’1, 185 pounds, but to the eye even looks a little bigger than that. As Malkin mentioned, Smith’s speed is impressive as are his instincts offensively to take advantage of his physical gifts.
Smith has never stood out as a massive scorer or a team’s premiere, number one type of option or best player, but he just goes about his business, frequently scoring 50+ points. Last year he recorded 56 in Vegas, just a few off his career-best 60 from back in 2017-18.
For his part though, Smith is enjoying the new start with an elite center in Malkin.
“He’s a world-class player,” Smith said. “He sees the ice so well. He creates so many options by creating space for himself and his teammates. I’m just trying to do my best to complement him right now and try to create some chemistry.”
That instant chemistry has been notable in the first handful of Penguins’ practices this year. It was exactly what coached Mike Sullivan envisioned when Pittsburgh acquired Smith from Vegas.
“There’s an element of unpredictability in [Smith’s] game that can present a challenge, at times, for his linemates,” Sullivan said of Malkin. “We think Reilly might be a real good fit there because he’s a cerebral player and he sees the game as well as [Malkin] does.”
That unpredictability makes Smith a unique and fun addition to the long list of Malkin’s linemates over the years. He can scoot up the ice and plays well in transition. Smith isn’t a guy who always looks to pass, but he will dish the puck when the situation calls for it.
Smith is a replacement for Jason Zucker, Malkin’s left wing last season, but a different style of player. While Zucker was an aggressive forechecker and used his speed to create space while also being a menace on the walls and more of a finisher, Smith is more capable in the neutral zone and more of a playmaker with his strengths.
And here is Kyle Dubas, folks! The Pittsburgh Penguins have acquired Reilly Smith from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a 3rd round draft pick. Smith is TOP6 offensive winger & Stanley Cup champion of course. pic.twitter.com/hmGAr8xv7e— Andy & Rono (@ARHockeyStats) June 28, 2023
For now, as it usually is in the low-pressure zone of the start of the season, the vibes are high and everyone is
“It’s like five months already. Last year, it’s over,” Malkin said. “New faces here. Need to try to be positive, try to joke around...Try to help each other and be positive. Look forward.”