Miami’s Shining Stars

When you have a fan, and writer, who is so passionate about hockey, it’s a treat to have an opportunity to get that person to contribute something to the blog. In that light, Redskin Warriors is happy to present our first guest submission from HappyGirl2525. She’s an avid Dallas Stars and Miami fan and you can follow her on Twitter at @happygirl2525. So, thanks to her for contributing our first guest piece to the blog and we hope she’ll do so again. Enjoy!

 

                       
Curtis McKenzie                           Reilly Smith

Walking into Goggin Ice Center, you can’t help but notice the murals and jerseys of former RedHawk greats who played in the NHL, from Brian Savage, Dan Boyle, Kevyn Adams to Ryan Jones. With each new season, it’s fun to watch the progress of the players and wonder who might be the next Miamian to raise the Stanley Cup over his head.

Two possible contenders, Miami’s Reilly Smith and Curtis McKenzie, were drafted by the Dallas Stars in 2009. This represented a significant change in the Stars philosophy, from relying heavily on the free agency and trades, to building more from within and increasing the number of quality prospects in the Stars system. It also mirrored the career path of Stars General Manager, Joe Nieuwendyk, who was a former college standout and Hobey Baker finalist for Cornell University.

With the 69th pick in the third round, the Stars selected Reilly Smith. Three rounds later, with the 159th pick, the Stars selected Curtis McKenzie. To provide some perspective, in 2007, with the 129th pick in the 5th round, the Stars selected Jamie Benn, who is currently second on the team in scoring and was just named to his first NHL All Star team. The key to an organization’s success is being able to identify those late-round diamonds in the rough, especially in the salary cap era.

Some other notable Stars draft picks currently playing in the NCAA are Austin Smith (Colgate), Alex Chiasson (Boston University – boo) Scott Winkler (Colorado College) and Alex Guptill (Michigan).

Being an NHL draft pick provides the players with a bit more opportunities than non-drafted players. Draft picks can attend, at their own expense, the NHL club’s Development Camp in the summer. Here they have a chance to skate with other prospects, most notably from the Junior ranks and minor league teams, and to work with NHL coaches and trainers on different skills, drills and conditioning. Another important aspect is that it gives the players a small taste of what their life could be in the pros, which can be very motivating.

For me personally, as both a Miami RedHawks and Dallas Stars fan, it’s been amazing to watch the development and progress of Smith and McKenzie and to see how they fit into the Stars system. Smith has attended two Stars Development camps (2010 and 2011) in Texas, and McKenzie attended one in 2010.

Watching Smith this year compared to last year, you can see how this experience has helped improve his game.  Besides being bigger this year, Smith is becoming a more complete player. While he’s always had the soft hands and good skating ability, he’s been more aggressive with his stick when he doesn’t have the puck and is playing more of a two-way game. Those are two elements that goal scorers, like Smith, can struggle with as they make the jump from Juniors or NCAA to the professional ranks.

Smith has also overcome losing a great set-up man in Andy Miele. While Smith struggled at the beginning of the year, as the whole team struggled, he’s really started to generate some great chemistry with Austin Czarnik. Scoring four goals in this weekend’s past two games, Smith is continuing to lead this RedHawk team back into contention.

Another challenge for Smith is overcoming the knock on him his freshman year that he is small. While he’s never had a problem playing a physical game or fighting for ice in front of the net, you do have to question if a college player will have the stamina to play an 82-game NHL schedule.  At 6’1”, 183, Smith is one inch taller and six pounds heavier than Dallas Stars center, Mike Ribeiro. Watching him play tonight, I no longer have any doubts if he can withstand the rigors of a full NHL schedule. In some ways I see some similarities between Smith and Stars GM Nieuwendyk, skinny college kids with soft hands, a knack for putting the puck in the net and an amazing wrist shot.

If Smith continues to develop at this pace, I think the only question remaining is if the Stars will let him finish his senior year in Oxford, or whether they bring him down to Austin, TX, to play for Dallas’ American Hockey League team, the Texas Stars. But I do think someday, we will see Smith in an NHL sweater. I just hope it’s a Dallas Stars sweater.

I’m not sure if Curtis McKenzie will ever wear a Dallas Stars sweater. I love McKenzie’s attitude, work ethic and intensity. At 6’2”, 207 pounds, he definitely has the size to play in the NHL, but he doesn’t have the offensive upside that Smith brings.  McKenzie has definitely matured as a player and isn’t taking as many unnecessary penalties as he’s done previously. Also, McKenzie isn’t afraid to use his size and crash the net. I’ve just not seen that ability to change a game that Smith possesses.  To make it to the NHL and more importantly to stay in the NHL, you’ve got to be able to raise your play to that next level and change the outcome of games. For example, Jamie Benn is gritty and intense but he can also dominate teams and make their defensemen look like peewees.

What I think what the Stars scouts saw in McKenzie and what I think could make him a member of the Texas Stars, besides his size, are his energy and passion for the game. McKenzie stands up for his teammates and will do whatever the team needs. Watching McKenzie, I think of him as a poor man’s Adam Burish. He lacks some of Burish’s scoring ability, but his personality reminds me of Burish, who was a standout for the University of Wisconsin Badgers hockey team.

While their paths may take them on separate journeys for the same franchise, I think both will have a roster spot for them in Texas, either in Austin or in Dallas, when their days at Miami are complete. Until then, I’m going to relish every chance I get to see Smith and McKenzie in the red and white.

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Posted on January 22, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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