“We call him ‘The Beast’ for a reason because he’s almost impossible to stop,” stated Rochester Knighthawks captain Paul Dawson after watching rookie forward Ryan Smith put up his third hat trick of the season against the Buffalo Bandits on Feb. 26.
Just recently, Smith has begun to go on a tear and truly starting to emerge into his own in the National Lacrosse League.
“He’s everything as advertised. Again, we’re trying to get him obviously more involved on the offense. I think the first couple of games he was trying to kind of find his way and was being a passenger. Now, he knows what’s going on.”
Even Knighthawks general manager Dan Carey acknowledged how Smith is finally starting to understand the value that he adds to this Rochester roster.
“He’s starting to understand his value to our team and his strengths. He’s a big, strong athlete that can get to the spots that he needs to get to have success. I think defending him would be very difficult knowing that he plays well with his teammates, he’s got good inside and outside presence and he’s able to score from there and he’s got some good vision. As he gets even more comfortable, he’s going to be a very good player for us.”
Last weekend, Smith had his best game of the season yet as he recorded a nine-point effort against the Georgia Swarm, in which he registered his first four-goal outing of his NLL career on his way to earning NLL Rookie of the Week honors. Smith has now gone on to tally two or more goals through his last four games and rack up at least four points in every game over that span. Additionally, he’s been held scoreless just once this season and has been on a roll ever since.
Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen mentioned how early on Smith may have been second-guessing himself a little, however, now we’re seeing that he’s exactly as advertised.
“He’s just such a big body, he’s got great finish and now he’s got some confidence that he can compete, and he can play in this league. I think early he was kind of second-guessing where he fills in, but now we see he’s the real deal.”
This weekend’s matchup against the New York Riptide will feature two of the league’s top three rookies in New York’s Jeff Teat and Rochester’s Smith. While Smith is coming off his career-high nine-point effort in last week’s overtime loss to Georgia, the rookie ranks third among all first-year players with 17 goals, is fourth in assists with 19 and third in points with 36.
Hasen even admitted that Smith is currently driving the bus for the Knighthawks, finding his groove and giving Rochester a chance in its last couple of games.
“He’s driving the bus a little bit for us here too and that’s great and guys are allowing him and giving him the opportunities and he’s burying them. So that’s great on him and great for us right now.”
What’s most impressive about Smith, however, is how quickly he’s acclimated to the indoor game after establishing himself as an elite outdoor player at both the collegiate and professional levels.
Prior to turning pro, Smith attended Robert Morris University where he was one of the most decorated players in school history. As a fifth-year graduate student in 2021, Smith set career-highs with 48 goals and 71 points, while also establishing single-season records for points (71), points-per-game (5.46) and goals-per-game (3.69). He recorded hat tricks in 11 of his 13 appearances this past season and registered multiple-assist outings on seven different occasions. Smith finished the season ranked second nationally in goals-per-game and fourth in points-per-game en route to earning All-America Honorable Mention accolades from USILA, Inside Lacrosse, US Lacrosse Magazine and College Crosse.
Over his illustrious five seasons with the Colonials, Smith, who was on the Tewaaraton Award Watch List for much of the season, scored 142 goals and totaled 217 points in 69 career games, all of which are most in program history. He ranks second all-time in career points-per-game (3.14) and games started (59) and third in goals-per-game (2.06) and assists (75).
While Smith was selected by Rochester third overall in the 2020 NLL Entry Draft, he’s begun to really come to form as of late getting back to the way that he was in his collegiate career. Dawson put it best that the efforts the team is seeing from Smith now, is exactly what the team was expecting.
“With a guy who is as big as he is, as athletic as he is, and with such a good stick – that’s what we expected from Ryan Smith and that’s what was advertised. Again, he’s kind of hitting his stride and there’s no ceiling for him.”
As for why Smith thinks his game is beginning to elevate, it seems a lot simpler to the first-year pro.
“The guys on the team continue to give me the confidence. Holden (Cattoni) is my roommate and, obviously, with how good of a shooter he is, he’s kind of given me the confidence to kind of pull the trigger the right way when you get the ball in shooting positions. It’s been working out.”