C.J. Smith wanted a blue collar town to match his blue collar play

Posted at 4:34 PM, Mar 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-30 16:34:20-04

Newly signed Buffalo Sabres forward C.J. Smith has never been to Buffalo, but he's confident it'll be a good fit.

"I think it just kind of fits the person I am," Smith said about his decision. "I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, a blue collar city. I played in Lowell and played in Austin, Minnesota, all kind of blue collar communities.  They all play blue collar hockey and I think that's kind of what the Buffalo Sabres are about and I think I kind of fit their identity." 

Smith, 22, signed his first NHL contract with the Sabres on Thursday morning. It's a two-year entry-level deal effective immediately -- meaning the remaining five games will count as a full year.

"Obviously I had some jitters," Smith said with a smile after his first practice. "It's a little different, you're not used to the bigger guys, more skilled guys, so I was a little anxious but I think I held my own out there."

Less than a week ago Smith was playing in the NCAA tournament for the UMass-Lowell River Hawks. His team lost to Notre Dame 3-2 and his season ended. The next step for the junior left-winger was reviewing his options -- but after talking with his coaches they agreed he was ready to take the next step.

"I had some options, but like I said it was a good group and young core here and I think there's a lot of potential for this to be successful."

In his three years at UMass-Lowell Smith averaged more than a point-per-game, scoring 56 goals and adding 69 assists [125 points] in 120 games. He knows how different the pro game is, but thinks he can make the transition.

"It's obviously a lot faster of a game, it comes at you pretty quick, so I just want to try to play my game," Smith added.

"He's got some speed and he's got some skill," Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma said about Smith. "He was tenacious on the puck, relentless on the puck and today we had some battle situations and battle drills out there and for a guy his size he showed that he had that."

Smith is 5'11" and weighs only 185 pounds making him noticeably smaller than some of his new teammates. He may not be the biggest guy, but he's made a good impression already.

"He's super skilled," fellow former Hockey East player Jack Eichel said. "I saw him play this year when I was home for the all-star break. I saw U-Lowell play BU and I think he had a pretty highlight reel goal so yeah, [he's a] skilled player, good around the net and it's good to have him here."

The newest member of the Sabres is expected in the lineup on Sunday against the New York Islanders barring anything unexpected.

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