The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. six writers and 718 readers ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2018 in the Buffalo Sabres organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked.
C.J. Smith’s inaugural season in the professional ranks was one to remember. With 44 points in 57 games, the 23-year-old earned himself a spot in the AHL All-Star Game. After signing as a collegiate free agent with the Sabres toward the end of the 2016-17 season, the UMass-Lowell product had no problem bringing his scoring prowess to Rochester.
While he may not do any particular thing at an elite level, Smith is a well-rounded player who can produce offense while maintaining as a responsible presence in his own end. So far he has been able to transition his skill set to the next level, but it remains to be seen whether or not he can be an effective long-term contributor in the NHL.
Leading up to the offseason, a healthy portion of fans had him penciled in as a botom-six left-winger in Buffalo next season. The Sabres acquisition of Jeff Skinner via trade last week may have forced Smith back down to the AHL, at least for the early portion of the 2018-19 season. If he can get off to a solid start for the Amerks next season however, he will be an early call-up.
It would be silly to count him out before training camp even begins, but his odds of wearing blue-and-gold to start the year have diminished. That being said, Jason Botterill could certainly make another move or two to shed some dead weight (looking at you Girgensons and Larsson), and free-up a place for Smith.
On a one-year, two-way contract, he’ll need to build on his solid 2016-17 campaign if he expects to be included in the team’s long-term plans.