Ty Smith, Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
Position: Left Defense
Age on Draft Day: 18.26 Years Old
Height/Weight: 5’10, 176 pounds
2017-2018 Stats (Including Playoffs): 76 GP, 16 G, 64 A, 32 PIM, +49
NHL Central Scouting: 14th (North American Skaters)
Bob McKenzie (TSN): 13th
HockeyProspect.com (March): 14th
ISS Hockey: 19th
Craig Button (TSN) (March): 19th
The first overall pick of the WHL draft in 2015, Ty Smith has been a prominent name in prospect circles for a long time. He’s hardly made the Spokane Chiefs regret the decision, as he’s quickly become one of the top defensemen in junior hockey.
Smith isn’t an elite straight-line skater like many of the top defensemen in this draft (though he’s still a good one), but his footwork and agility definitely do rank among the best. This ability is particularly prominent in the offensive zone. He’s not going to play keep-a-way for half of a shift like Quinn Hughes does, for instance, but he’s a slippery player who will evade the high pressuring wing and create space for himself to make a play. Watch for #42 in these clips.
For good measure, he’s a similar example, except him using his agility in the corner to extinguish a forecheck and create a clean zone exit.
Like many of the defensemen in this draft, Smith is also a great rusher of the puck. For sure, this is a player you want starting plays with possession. Though he’s not particularly flashy, Smith executes extremely clean zone exits and entries.
Mitch Brown, who writes for The Athletic, tracked some of Smith’s games and found that, at least in those samples, the data backed this up. Smith is one of the top players at successfully creating controlled zone exits and entries. It’s always nice when data backs up one’s perceptions.
Thanks! Evan Bouchard on the left, Ty Smith on the right. pic.twitter.com/3n2qohn3zJ— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) May 3, 2018
Smith produced quite a number of points in the WHL, which will be analyzed later. Being the man who has the puck on his stick for so many plays will result in racking up assists. In the offensive zone, Smith does a great job leading a 1-3-1 powerplay. He is a smart, efficient passer who makes smooth passes to his flanks, and knows how to spot open shooting lanes and put a clean wrister towards the net for either a screen goal, deflection, or rebound chance. I also noticed that he loves to be the third or fourth man on a transition rush, providing a high passing option or at least another body the outnumbered defense has to worry about. Here are a couple of examples.
The elephant in the room for Smith is that his size may very well cap his defensive upside. I noticed that he sometimes can get a bit timid around the crease area, and even in the WHL Spokane’s coaches very clearly instruct him to front shots instead of trying to box out bodies.
Nonetheless, Smith qualifies as a legitimate two-way defenseman. Again referring to Brown’s data above, Smith is a confident one-on-one defender and cuts off access at the blue-line. The footwork that makes him slippery with the puck go a long away defensively as well. He’s a brave shot blocker, which is going to be necessary if he’s fronting as frequently as one would expect he will have to at the pro level, and can absolutely play in a penalty killing role.
Fourteen goals and 59 assists is really strong production for a defenseman in the WHL. In fact, it was good enough to put Smith 13th all-time in points by a U18 defenseman. Here is a comparison of him to U18 defensemen over the last 30 WHL seasons.
There are some serious names on this list, and in a very general sense it’s a good sign for Smith. There are a few caveats, though First, he relied heavily on assists. In terms of goal scoring, he’s far down this list. That in itself maybe wouldn’t be a big deal, but I do have some concerns about how he was generating those assists. The forward trio of Kailer Yamamoto, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, and Hudson Elynuik is about as good as one will find in junior hockey, and in my viewings Smith definitely generated a fair share of assists where one or more of those guys made magic happen.
It would be much easier to shrug that off had Smith produced points at the international level, but he didn’t. Over the last two seasons, he produced just one assist in 10 games at the U18 World Championship. Often, short tournaments get weighted way too much, but I think it’s fair to at least ponder whether a more level playing field harmed Smith’s ability to rack up points.
I’m going to spoil tomorrow’s article and state that I had Smith and fellow defenseman Noah Dobson neck-and-neck for this spot in the rankings; so much so that I flip-flopped a few times. At the end of the day, though, it’s about my perception of upside. It’s very possible that Smith’s production is inflated, but even still there would be plenty to like He creates zone entries and exits, he’s an adroit passer in the offensive zone, and he does plenty to break up plays at the blueline. There’s nothing wrong with a second-pairing defenseman who makes a positive impact on the flow of the game while eating minutes in all situations and picking up a decent share of assists. Relative to enigma that is forecasting the future of 17-year-old’s Smith has a very high probability of turning into an NHL defenseman.
But what if the production is largely legitimate, though? His assist output puts him above the likes of Ivan Provorov and Ian White. Maybe Smith isn’t dropping dimes on the sticks of pedestrian junior players, but creating zone entries and making clean passes to talented players in a position to make plays isn’t a banality, either. What’s also reassuring is that Smith produced very well at even strength. I’m not convinced, but I am intrigued enough to ask “what if?” I don’t think it’s as open-ended for Dobson, and that’s why Smith is 11th on my list.
Smith would be a perfectly suitable pick for the Rangers at ninth overall simply based on value, but it also certainly doesn’t hurt that he’d fill a need. I think it’s also fair, depending on how the top-eight picks play out, to posit that the Rangers could trade down a few picks and land a player like Smith while adding an extra lottery ticket to already large collection of draft picks.
What Others Have Said
Anonymous Western Canada Scout, to Blueshirt Banter:
“Any team with strong forwards are going to inflate the totals of the main puck movers. He’s an interesting player, though. Not sure there’s a pile of flash or dynamic ability there but intelligent with great feet. More of a game manager offensively than someone who will be constantly pushing the pace.”
Kamloops and U18 Canada Head Coach Don Hay (via Sportsnet):
“He’s a really smart guy. He doesn’t have a hard, hard shot, but he gets his shot through. He finds a way to have his head up and get pucks through.”
Spokane Chiefs Education Advisor Joe Everson (via team website):
“He is curious, diligent, willing to persevere, and talented. He is also a natural leader by example in the classroom.”