What a difference a change of scenery can make.
Last year, Dylan Smoskowitz was riding the pine, seeing very little ice time while playing for the Barrie Colts. With a lineup of talented offensive players such as Mark Scheifele, Tanner Pearson and Smoskowitz’s buddy, Daniel Erlich, Colts coach Dale Hawerchuk didn’t have to rely on Smoskowitz’s goal-scoring abilities.
His talents were being wasted as a spot player, so early in the current season, he was traded to the Mississauga Steelheads for Cody Boyd plus a couple of OHL draft picks.
Smoskowitz proved his mettle right from the get-go. During the first period of his first game for the Steelheads, before he’d even attended a practice, he put one by the goaltender of the Niagara IceDogs.
“I knew this would be my new home, that I’d fit in great with the coach and a great bunch of guys,” he said.
In Mississauga he was told that he’d “be relied upon more offensively. At the same time, I take pride in myself as a two-way player, taking faceoffs. And you can’t forget your defensive responsibility,” he said.
Always an offensively gifted player, Smoskowitz’s stats tell the story of a guy who blossoms when he gets lots of ice time.
In 2010-11, his first season with the Colts, he scored 21 goals and added 10 assists in 67 games. Last year, with limited ice time, his numbers fell to three goals and nine points in 60 games.
Now, as the No. 1 centre in Mississauga, playing on the power play and despite facing the other teams’ best defenders, he’s racked up 21 goals and eight assists in 24 games. He’s 31st in OHL scoring. He was named OHL player of the week for the week ending Oct. 14 after scoring five goals and two assists in three games, to go along with a plus-minus rating of plus-5. So far this season, his plus-minus stands at plus 11.
Smoskowitz considers himself fortunate to be getting a second chance to showcase his talents. “I’ll try to make the most of the moment,” he said.
He’s been put on a line with Mississauga’s leading scorer, Riley Brace (nine goals, 26 assists), who’s 18th in league scoring, and Josh Burnside (eight goals and eight assists).
“It’s been great since I first got here. We blended instantly,” he said.
Smoskowitz is clearly the trigger-man on the line, and when he evaluates himself as a player, he believes his greatest strength is finding open space on the ice and seizing the opportunity for a good chance on net. He believes he’s improved his skating, though there’s room to increase his explosiveness in his first three steps, he said.
At away games, with the opposition enjoying last change, Smoskowitz faces some of the best defensive players in the league, including Dougie Hamilton and Scott Harrington. “I see it as a challenge,” he said. “If you get points, it’s a confidence booster.”
For home games, head coach James Boyd is confident in his personnel and generally rolls his lines in order, Smoskowitz said.
A second home ice advantage is living right at home. Instead of billeting with local families, as many OHL players do, Smoskowitz lives with his parents, Michael and Shirley, in Richmond Hill. It gives his dad, who played a little junior A back in the day, the chance to go over game film with Dylan.
“My dad PVRs every televised game, and if he sees something, a trend starting to happen, he’ll let me know,” Dylan said. “My dad wants me working hard every shift.”
Living at home has other benefits as well, especially at mealtime. “Every meal goes above and beyond,” he said.
His parents both attend nearly all the Steelheads’ home games, along with plenty of nearby away games.
Smoskowitz, 19, was passed over in his draft year, but he remains eligible for the NHL entry draft at the end of the current season. With his new profile, he’s hopeful he’ll get noticed by scouts.
One guy who spotted his talents is Alex Voihanski, GM of International Scouting Services (ISS). Voihanski is responsible for putting together Maccabi Canada’s hockey team that will compete in next summer’s Maccabiah Games in Israel.
Smoskowitz was invited to the team tryouts last June, and a little while ago he was told he’d made the team.
“It should be a pretty good experience,” said Smoskowitz, who attended United Synagogue Day School.
Another change of scenery and another chance for Smoskowitz to shine.