The Buffalo Sabres are making quick work of their restricted free agents, signing Danny O’Regan, Nicholas Baptiste and Justin Bailey over the last few days. Today they’ve scratched another one off the list by inking C.J. Smith to a one-year two-way contract worth $874K at the NHL level. That leaves just Sam Reinhart—who is expected to sign a much longer and more lucrative deal—left to sign among their 2018 RFAs.
Smith, 23, is coming off his first season of professional hockey and has done nothing but impress for the Sabres. Signed as an undrafted college free agent out of UMass-Lowell, he recorded 44 points in 57 games for the Rochester Americans and looked poised to dominate the minor leagues for a long time. It’s whether or not there is impact NHL upside that is still the question with Smith, who despite all his offensive talent still sometimes lacks consistency at the other end of the rink and doesn’t have a big frame or much physicality to offer.
The worst thing to happen for Smith this summer may have been the Sabres’ improvements, as Conor Sheary, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson and Patrik Berglund have all been added to the forward group, essentially pushing him down the depth chart. There is still a chance that Smith impresses in camp and head coach Phil Housley is forced to include him on the opening day roster, but the additions make it more likely that he’ll start in Rochester once again. Given the fact that he’s still waiver-exempt only adds to that likelihood, and will probably force Smith to wait for his chance later in the year.