At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there are no bad players at this point in the draft. By the time you reach the top 10 of any scout’s rankings, you’re talking about good players. That’s true of the two defensemen we just profiled, Adam Boqvist and Noah Dobson; and it’s true of the player we have ranked, somewhat controversially, a few slots ahead of them.
Ty Smith is a remarkably complete defender who’s firmly established himself as one of the most underrated players in this class. His combination of skating, puck skills, and hockey sense made him the best draft-eligible prospect in the WHL this season, and he could be a sleeper come draft day. He may not have Dobson’s size and defensive awareness, or Boqvist’s raw skill; but he’s arguably the most well-rounded defender in the draft outside of the guy we all know is going to go first overall. That’s enough to slot him in as the eigth-best prospect in this year’s draft.
- Age/Birthplace: 17.48 / March 24, 2000
- Birthplace: Lloydminster, AB, CAN
- Frame: 5’11” / 170 lbs
- Position: D
- Handedness: L
- Draft Year Team: Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
- Accomplishments/Awards: Hlinka Memorial Gold Medal, WHL First Team All-Star, WHL Scholastic Player of the Year
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Adjusted Scoring (SEAL)
At the risk of spending too much time comparing Smith to another prospect, I do feel the need to justify, if only briefly, the choice to rank Smith ahead of Noah Dobson, who’s been ranked an average of three spots higher across most publications. (Adam Boqvist is in this conversation as well, but he played in SuperElit this season and is generally a question mark across the board, so we’ll focus on Dobson for now). Both defenders are great skaters who are comfortable in all situations and play well in all three zones. Dobson is the bigger player, standing at 6’3″ to Smith’s 5’11”, and he’s a bit more well-rounded defensively. However, Smith stands out in comparison in a number of important statistical categories that indicate he not only has a better chance of succeeding at the NHL level, but also that his ceiling may be higher.
Smith comes out ahead when looking at several predictive and descriptive metrics. His expected likelihood of success (XLS%), expected production (XPR), and expected value (xVAL) via the prospect Graduation Probabilities system were all higher than Dobson’s, as were his involvement percentage (the percentage of team goals the player factored in), his goals-for percentage, and his situational, era, age, and league (SEAL) adjusted scoring rate. Consideration was given to Dobson’s size, defensive acumen, and shot rate; but in the end, a close race in my personal rankings eventually came down to who was the more statistically impressive player. This is CanucksArmy, after all.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about what makes Smith a potentially special player. Offensively, Smith had the most impressive season for a first-time draft-eligible defenceman in the WHL in 15 years. Here’s a look at the best WHL seasons by points-per game by a defenceman since 2005-06:
Here are the WHL leaders in points per game as an under-18 defenceman. Once again, this is since the '06-07 season.
Ty Smith and Calen Addison are putting up amazing numbers. pic.twitter.com/FYRKdzi95n
— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) March 6, 2018
It shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the diversity and effectiveness of his offensive toolkit. He has the speed and puck-moving ability to be dangerous off the rush and the vision and passing skill to be an effective power play quarterback. He also has a great release on his shot, which he was able to get off quickly and through traffic often enough to put him at 6th overall in goals by a defenceman in the WHL this season. Smith’s ability to create offence in several different ways made him one of this year’s best scoring chance contributors according to the data tracked by the Athletic’s Mitchell Brown.
In his own zone, he’s solid if unspectacular. He reads the play well enough, but his effectiveness is somewhat limited by his size. He doesn’t have the wingspan to break up plays quite as effectively as a larger defender might, but it also didn’t hold him back. His biggest asset is his ability to transition the puck and get play moving in the other direction. As a result, he was still one of the WHL’s most effective players from a defensive standpoint- largely because he just didn’t spend a lot of time in the defensive zone.
When viewed through the lens of the prospect Graduation Probabilities System, Ty Smith looks like one of the draft’s safest bets. He carries an expected likelihood of success of 75% and an expected production of just over 34 points per season. When accounting for this, his impressive inputs, and how favourably his numbers compare to some recent WHL grads, he looks like a low-risk pick with a potentially high reward; which could make him a great target for a team looking to trade down.
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“The dynamic two-way defender continues to display his full arsenal of weapons with Spokane this season. The former first overall pick in the 2015 WHL bantam draft, Smith is an excellent skater who demonstrates poise and patience with the puck. His outlets are crisp and his head is always up. He’s a player you fall in love with because he always makes the right play.”
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CanucksArmy’s 2018 NHL Draft Rankings