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Training Camp Battles: Gemel Smith and The Element of Surprise

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Gemel Smith was playing in the ECHL last year. Let that sink in.

smith at the net

One of the problems holding the Dallas Stars back from being a successful team in recent years has been the lack of draft success from the Joe Nieuwendyk era.

There have been some hits, of course, but the big misses have weighed the Stars down. The lone exception was the 2012 NHL draft.

Ludwig Bystrom has been a pillar for the Texas Stars over the years. Radek Faksa and Esa Lindell are already certified NHL regulars. And then there’s Gemel Smith.

Smith spent a brief amount of time in the ECHL two seasons ago. As Sean Shapiro tells it:

When Smith first turned pro he didn’t know how to take care of himself. He didn’t know how to cook and he would either eat takeout or have to rely on his roommate’s cooking, as a result his diet suffered.

He would show spurts of speed, but it wasn’t sustainable during games and Smith would often disappear later in games after a strong start. It all led to a short demotion to the ECHL last season (which lasted four games) and it may have signaled he would never make it as an NHL prospect.

He started the season slow, but got cooking at just the right time; which is an unfortunate way of saying Dallas lost most of their forwards, and Smith got the call.

Smith scored 6 points in 17 games, buried on the 4th line no less. If he had played a full season in Dallas, that would have come out to 28 points. Not bad for a player who never got to play with Tyler Seguin or Jason Spezza.

Smith didn’t come out of nowhere though.

While it’s true he underperformed in prior seasons, he was full throttle in Texas last year.

Smith plays a classic style with a modern skillset. Labeled Antoine Roussel’s understudy, he skates, hits, and fights (in Cedar Park or American Airlines) with energy.

Plus he has adorable fans. And rollerblades around town like Emilio Estevez isn’t watching him carefully.

But he’s also skilled.

Smith really is the complete package in roughneck clothing. Here he demonstrates deft hand-eye coordination to beat the goaltender. Smith would never be mistaken for a finisher in the classic sense. But he hounds the net with tenacity - something he didn’t waste time translating at the NHL level.

Speaking of the NHL, his shorthanded goal against Chicago was no fluke. Even if you ignore the Chicago goal, or the shorthanded goal against Tampa Bay that was called back. His shorthanded performance in the AHL was no different.

Smith managed a Gordie Howe hat trick this game, and 2 of his goals were shorthanded. He would almost net his 4th shorthanded goal of the season in April when he managed a breakaway 3-on-5 (!).

Getting back to Smith’s skills, he doesn’t have a heavy, or particularly accurate shot. But he’s got quick, soft hands in close quarters where he can shift between forehand and backhand with ease. In addition, Smith can play center or wing.

With all the depth signings, it will be tough for Smith to secure a spot in the NHL. It’s not just his fellow prospects, but veterans with NHL experience that he’ll compete with. Ken Hitchcock has shown a soft spot for grinders. But Smith promises to mix in a little poetry amidst the typical 4th line piss and vinegar. Perhaps he’s not such a long shot after all.