By Erica Whyte (Posted on May 23, 2019)
The 2017-18 Amerks Rookie of the Year came into his second season with a lot to prove. And just as he did in his first year, forward C.J. Smith did not disappoint.
It was a career-year for 24-year-old Smith, who recorded 58 points (28+30) in 62 games as an Amerk after re-signing a one-year, two-way contract with the Buffalo Sabres last summer. The Des Moines, Iowa, native finished the season sitting in second place for both points and goals and recorded two goals in 11 contests with the Sabres. He was also atop the team’s leaderboard with a plus-26 on-ice rating and fired off the most shots on goal with 207.
“It was a really good year,” Smith said on locker cleanout day. “I improved from last year and I got some opportunity in the NHL. There were a lot of good improvements and I was really excited and really proud of how the season went.”
WATCH: C.J. SMITH YEAR-END INTERVIEW
A season full of success, both on and off the scoresheet.
“I think this season helped me out a lot, both as a person and a hockey player,” said Smith of his growth this year. “There were a lot of good learning experiences for me.”
Good learning experiences, and a chance to make NHL history.
With his first NHL goal in January, Smith became the first Iowa native to ever score at that level. And the success that he had with the big club made Smith eager for more.
WATCH: C.J. SMITH YEAR IN REVIEW WITH ERICA WHYTE
It’s no secret that Smith has his sights set on earning a full-time NHL spot, and he explained that he will be taking the skills he learned this season and focus on pushing himself to make that much anticipated jump.
“Now I’ve just got to take what I did this year and use it as a learning experience for next year, and improve on it, and hopefully get more opportunity here in the future,” he said. “I’ve just got to be ready when that opportunity happens.”
With the offseason now in full swing, Smith is looking to improve in all areas, but most specifically, his speed.
“Getting a little faster,” Smith said when asked which part of his game he will be working on most. “The game is so fast now and that’s such an important piece. So, I think that’s something I’m really going to be focused in on.”