The top-ranked prospect out of the WHL this year, Ty Smith isn’t the typical big, bruising defender the league had been known for in the past. Instead, he’s one who relies on a bevy of skills to have an impactful game.
Chosen first overall by the Spokane Chiefs in 2015, Smith has lived up to his billing in his CHL career to date, following up a good first full season in the league with an exceptional draft-year campaign.
Birthplace: Lloydminster, Saskatchewan
Date of birth: March 24, 2000
Weight: 176 lbs.
Team: Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
He was one of seven defencemen to produce at better than a point-per-game rate in the league, and the only draft-eligible blue-liner to hit that mark. Only Medicine Hat Tigers standout and 2016 NHL Draft selection David Quenneville had more points from the back end in all situations (80 versus Smith’s 73) and at five-on-five (46 versus 39).
At the end of the season, Smith was named a Western Conference First-Team All-Star, and was also named the league’s Scholastic Player of the Year. With a mark of 98% in his Computer Applications class, he’s applied that calculating instinct to his game, and it’s perhaps the top quality that will see him have NHL success.
Smith is one of the most intelligent players in the draft class and has great awareness on the ice. The combination allows him to quickly assess his options and come up with a play to work the puck in the right direction.
On the defensive side, that means knowing where the opposition’s pressure is coming from, and which of his teammates are in the best position to help. Without the puck, he uses his good mobility to keep in front of attacking forwards. They simply don’t attempt to carry the puck in on his side of the ice thanks to his great positioning, active stick, and great speed to be able to keep up if they did try to get past him.
In the zone, he uses those abilities to divert forwards away from his net and into less dangerous positions along the boards, though he currently lacks the strength to be able impose himself on those already established in front. With the puck, he uses his hand skills to move it out of their reach and his great edgework to quickly navigate the puck into a quieter area to start the breakout for his team.
One of his preferred exit moves is a stretch pass to hit a teammate racing away toward the offensive zone. As with any high-risk, high-reward play, this can result in turnovers that give the possession right back, but that is the case with all players who are confident enough to be playmakers while in possession of the puck.
He is equally happy to carry the puck out of his own end, and sees a great deal of success when he decides to do so. It’s probably something he could stand to do even more given how often it works for him, and would help him be even more effective on the ice.
He’s more willing to try to cross the offensive blue line with control of the puck, either with a pass to the teammate he finds open or by stickhandling his way over the blue line himself. His complementary abilities allow him to control the pace of the play, daring opposing players to make a desperate attempt to take the puck away. Often the pace he chooses in a slow one, and that may need to change at higher levels, but given his ability to quickly calculate good decisions on defence, there’s nothing to indicate he will find that to be a challenge.
In the offensive zone, his skill set really shines. His trickiness with the puck allows him to patrol the blue line, shifting the puck around to create a lane for a pass or a shot, and he is very good at getting the puck on target past the man tasked with shadowing him. He doesn’t have a powerful shot, but is able get a snapshot or wrister to the front of the net that can be easily tipped by a teammate setting up a screen or leave a rebound lying near the crease.
His mobility and stickhandling give him the confidence to work the puck to the front of the net, and he can look like a forward as he dangles his way into the slot for a prime opportunity. Like the rest of his game, those moves are calculated and tend to work more often than not, and helped him put up the impressive offensive numbers he did.
With even more space to exploit, he’s very good on the power play. His production was outdone by fellow WHL draft-eligible Calen Addison at five-on-four, but Smith still managed 24 points in that situation to be among the top blue-liners in the WHL.
Future Considerations: #9
NHL Central Scouting: #14 (North American skaters)
Named the captain of Team Orr for the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game in late January, he had just one shot on goal and finished as a game-worst -4 in a 7-4 loss. At the end of the season, he also had difficulty with his offensive game for Team Canada at the Under-18 World Championship, where he had zero points in five games. He was at least able to dsplay his other strengths during the tournament, but he didn’t do much to make any lasting impressions in the two biggest showcases of the year for draft-eligible prospects matched up against their peers.
Fortunately for him, his larger body of work over two WHL regular-season campaigns and this spring’s post-season (seven points in seven games) have kept his stock high heading into the draft, where he’s projected to go in the middle of the first round.
Yet another of the sub-six-foot defencemen projected to go early, there are few concerns about his ability to be effective in the higher ranks other than the usual strength issues that every prospects needs to address before becoming a professional athlete.
Ty Smith ticks a lot of boxes for the Montreal Canadiens. He would help fill the void of puck-moving defencemen within the organization, and, unlike the block of defenders slated to go just before him, he is a left-handed shooter who could soon challenge for a spot on what appears will be the weaker side of the defensive alignment for the next several years.
After seeing good results from going exclusively to the WHL for their four defencemen in 2017, the Habs would centainly be eager to add the top prospect from that league this time around. They likely got a heads up to keep an eye on Smith in last year’s amateur scouting reports, and he’d be at the top of their list heading into the draft.
To make his addition possible, the Canadiens would need to acquire another first-round pick. Given the projections, they could potentially land him somewhere in the range of picks 10 to 20, and therefore won’t have to strike a deal with a basement-dwelling teams seeking an arm and a leg for one of the few valuable chips they’re clutching. Pulling off a trade using one of their left-wingers rumoured to be available for a package of assets that includes a pick in that range could turn out to be a worthwhile move for the club.
Stats via Prospect-Stats