By Michael Fornabaio
Connecticut Post Online
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – This was the kid the New York Islanders had been so excited to pry out of college?
Trevor Smith looked lost in the fall. It turned out he didn’t exactly feel all that comfortable with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers yet, either.
“Confidence has always been something for me, knowing I can make it at that level,” said Smith, 23.
“I’ve kind of had some slow starts here and there. Once I settle in, feel comfortable, I can earn ice time, earn some respect from the players.”
It took a trip to the ECHL, a few months’ stay in Utah, but Smith returned to Bridgeport around Christmas a changed player.
After a half-season maturation process, Smith has emerged as the prospect that the organization was hoping for when it plucked him out of the University of New Hampshire last spring after his sophomore season.
“He’s playing with poise,” coach Jack Capuano said.
“He’s a shooter. He’s taking advantage of his opportunities on the power play, at four-on-three, at five-on-three. He’s going to those Grade-A areas, and he’s not passing up his chances.”
He needed a while to get there.
Smith played sparingly in four of the team’s first seven games. He was sent to Utah on Oct. 29; all he did there was score 25 points in 22 games.
That at least gave him the idea that he could be a pro player.
“It was tough at the start for me,” he said. “I was in and out the first eight games. I went down there and got my confidence back.”
Still, coming back at Christmas still took some transition. He scored only two goals and didn’t set one up in his first 13 games back with the Sound Tigers. But he never came out of the lineup.
Capuano jokes that a lot of Smith’s improvement comes from “me yelling at him.” He said he tried to get Smith’s attention, to instill ways to become a better complete player.
In the next 24 games, Smith had 11 goals and 12 assists. That includes a February in which the league named him rookie of the month.
“We’ve given him a lot more responsibility,” Capuano said. “He’s starting to kill penalties more. There’ve been some games the past three or four weeks where he’s played close to 27 minutes.
“He’s a young player who’s really starting to come into his own.”
Smith arrived here last April after completing his second season at UNH. He played eight games with the Sound Tigers and fit in, if he didn’t stand out.
Smith calls himself an easy-going guy who likes to play a little guitar in his spare time, but those eight games gave him a look at the drive he would need to make it as a pro.
“This was probably my hardest-working summer,” Smith said.
“The college life’s a lot different. There’s not even ice the first month or two. (As a pro) you’re playing against the best players in the world in training camp.”
He’s hesitant even to mention that he has tinkered with his summertime workout regimen — he’s hoping to postpone it as long as possible, after all, with a playoff run — but it’s something he wants to improve.
“I know now the things not to do,” said Smith, who’s from North Vancouver, British Columbia. “I drove cross-country right before camp. That’s not going to happen next year.”
While he rebuilt his confidence, Capuano built his awareness away from the puck.
“He’s going to continue to work on his (defensive)-zone coverage,” Capuano said. “On the offensive side of things, he’s very creative.”
He had a 10-game scoring streak between late February and early March. A power-play goal on his 23rd birthday beat Lowell with 1:03 remaining. Feb. 29 at Wilkes-Barre, he scored with 3:01 to play to beat the Penguins 3-2 in what looked at the time to be a huge victory.
This was the kid the Islanders had been so excited to pry out of college.