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June 19, 2018

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Reilly Smith makes Golden Knights’ top line go

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AP Photo/David Becker

Vegas Golden Knights right wing Reilly Smith (19) celebrates with the bench after scoring a goal against the Nashville Predators during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in Las Vegas.

Leading the Golden Knights in goals and points respectively, William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault are quickly becoming fan favorites. Meanwhile, Reilly Smith has quietly become a favorite amongst his teammates and coaches.

The 26-year-old winger may have the most complete game of any player on the team, combing with Karlsson and Marchessault on the Knights’ top-rated first line. The line just passed the Tampa Bay Lightning’s top-trio of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov for most goals in the NHL.

They scored the game-winning goal Sunday night against the New York Rangers, when Smith found Karlsson with a cross-ice pass that Karlsson buried into the wide-open net in Vegas’ 2-1 victory at T-Mobile Arena.

Karlsson is tied for fifth in the league with a career-high 22 goals in only 41 games. His previous single-season high was nine. Marchessault leads the Golden Knights with 40 points (16 goals and 24 assists), which ranks him 21st in the NHL. He’s on pace for 80 points, which would best his previous high by 39 points.

Smith has impressive numbers with 11 goals and 23 assists, but he hasn’t had the glamorous game-winning moments of the other two.

“He’s a huge part of what we do,” Karlsson said. “He’s a guy that creates space and time for others. He’s really good at forechecking and is just a really good all around player. He can defend, he can score and he can set someone up. He’s the whole package.”

The vast majority of Karlsson’s goals have come off one-timer shots created by Smith and Marchessault. While Karlsson deserves heaps of credit for putting himself in the right position, it’s Smith that feeds him the puck when the time is right.

“That’s how it’s been all year. I just try to find the spots and I know that I’m going to get (the puck),” Karlsson said. “He is the real deal.”

On the game-winning goal Sunday, Smith’s chemistry with Karlsson was evident. While Smith’s back was turned to Karlsson, he was able to deliver the pass because he sensed his teammate would be in position to score.

“I think we have good chemistry together,” Smith said. “We are doing a good job taking an extra second, finding each other and waiting for a nice play to open up. I think all three of us have pretty good vision and that’s the key right now. We are getting on pucks really quick and we’re able to make plays with it.”

Smith’s vision on offense is far from his only contribution, coach Gerard Gallant said.

“The thing I like about him is he works as hard defensively back-checking as he does in the offensive zone,” Gallant said. “He’s a complete, all around player and that rubs off on his teammates.”

Smith plays more than 18 minutes per game, including major minutes on the penalty kill. Smith averages 1:48 of short-handed time on the ice, which is the most of any forward on the team

“He’s a guy that can kill penalties as good as anybody in the league in my opinion,” Gallant said. “Defensively he reads plays real well and he’s a smart player.”

Smith’s willingness to put in the effort on defense is mirrored by many other players on the team, and that’s a huge reason for the Golden Knights’ success.

When players see him putting in the effort, and hustling back to play defense, they can’t help but follow suit.

“Reilly steps up every night and plays a 200-foot game and I think that’s what our team is trying to do,” Gallant said. “They watch Reilly play and (the way) he competes and battles, and there are a lot of players that try to (emulate) that style.”

Jesse Granger can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected]. Follow Jesse on Twitter at twitter.com/JesseGranger_.

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