Name: Ty Smith
Team: Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
Stats: 14 goals, 59 assists, 73 points
Position: Left-handed defenseman
NHL Central Scouting Ranking: 14th (North American Skaters)
NHL Comparable Player: Jared Spurgeon
In recent years, the puck-moving defenseman has become synonymous with the “new breed” of blue-liners. The typical caveat for offensively minded d-men is that their offense comes at the cost of defense.
That’s not the case with Ty Smith.
At 5’11” and 176 pounds, Smith is a plus skater who uses his first step and mobility to exit the zone with possession and opportunity. He’s not a flashy playmaker in his own zone, but only because he doesn’t need to be. Rather than play the game at full tilt all the time, Smith knows how to slow the game down with his ability to see every angle, finding the quiet ice, passing with precision, and pressuring with prudence (sorry; I’m on an alliteration kick).
If that makes Smith sound a little boring for a potential top 15 pick, it shouldn’t. Steve Kournianos believes Smith belongs in a tier with Adam Boqvist and Quinn Hughes. Kournianos has a few fancy numbers on his side:
Thanks! Evan Bouchard on the left, Ty Smith on the right. pic.twitter.com/3n2qohn3zJ— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) May 3, 2018
Evan Bouchard is considered a consensus top 10 pick, and Smith appears to be the better overall defenseman (stats wise). His numbers compared to Noah Dobson — another consensus top 10 pick — are also pretty favorable. (Note that SEAL stands for Situational, Era, Age, and League, and is a fancy stat tool that attempts to value scoring rates by accounting for which league they’re in. Another fun note in all of this number goulash is that, apparently, defensemen scoring rates stay afloat better than forward scoring rates as players move up to tougher leagues.):
Dobson has a few inches on Smith, but Smith has played in a tougher league, and the WHL’s track record for churning out solid defenceman leaves Smith with a higher pGPS Expected Likelihood of Success than Dobson (75% versus 52%). Smith also has Dobson beat in SEAL adjusted scoring (1.27 to 1.05), while Dobson has a more impressive shot rate (4.12 shots per game versus 2.81). Both blueliners crested 60% in goals for percentage, but the Spokane Chiefs were substantially worse off without Smith than the Titan were without Dobson; Smith had a GF%rel of +18.6% compared to Dobson’s +3.9%. Both are solid defencemen with bright futures, but I see Smith as more of a point producer at the next level, and that gives him a bit of an edge.
As you can see, there’s a lot going on with Smith’s game beyond just the fact that he was the best 17-year-old scoring defensemen in 15 years in the WHL. So why is he typically slot into the early teens on most draft boards?
Players like Dobson and Bouchard are late risers. With their plus size, it’s easy to see why scouts would covet their progress more than others. Smith still has some question marks. Some draft experts believe he underperformed at the U18s (going pointless in five games), and the Hlinka Memorial, and his regular season success with Spokane might have been heavily boosted by the Chiefs’ top talents, like Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Kailer Yamamoto (though his goals for relative to his team argue otherwise). Small blue-liners always have questions about how they can play along the wall, and against a strong cycle. These are areas where it pays to have reach and size; it’s by no means mandatory (and there are situations where speed in the corner is just as critical), but it’s a question mark nonetheless.
Dallas will be in a good position to draft Smith if they want. Even if Smith belongs in the top 10 (and I believe he does), he fits the profile of a “faller.” But the Dallas Stars may also feel like their left side is set with Esa Lindell and Miro Heiskanen in their top four in the immediate and foreseeable future. They may also feel like they’ve got enough puck movers with John Klingberg, Heiskanen, and Julius Honka. They may even feel like Honka is expendable now that Ken Hitchcock soured on him after one training camp, in addition to the small sample size of turnovers at the IIHF World Championships. This follows up a world-weary 58 games of NHL experience — of which 27 percent of them were played with a veteran partner in steady minutes where he looked great, and the rest saw him chained to a three second rule in a lame duck system in sub-third pairing minutes without a steady defensive partner.
Except if Heiskanen ever supplants Lindell on the top pair, can Lindell carry his own? Lindell paired with Stephen Johns (which some fans advocate given their AHL success) was...not good (they were second worse on the team in both CF together, and expected goals for percentage). Lindell paired with Honka was much better, but in a smaller sample size. Meanwhile, prospects like Gavin Bayreuther, Dillon Heatherington, and John Nyberg won’t get big opportunities to play next season unless half the blue line gets injured.
The point? Dallas’ blueline situation is still an unknown (in contrast to the top teams in the Central, it’s still a weakness). Ty Smith’s talents, on the other hand, are very known. He’s an elite skater with soft hands, and IQ in all three zones with the ability to counterattack with his legs and vision.
I wouldn’t advocate Dallas selecting Smith (depending on who’s still onboard), but I wouldn’t be against it — talent tends to clarify things, and Dallas could use some clarification on defense.