Talent knows talent. When Sweden’s Adam Boqvist played against Canada’s Ty Smith at the 2017 World Under-17 Challenge, he had to track down his fellow puckmoving defenseman after the game. Canada Black won the game, but a friendship was forged and the two 2018 NHL draft prospects still text each other to this day.
While Rasmus Dahlin is going to be the first player and first defenseman off the board this summer in Dallas, the hallmark of this draft class is in exciting blueliners. Smith, Boqvist, Quinn Hughes and Ryan Merkley are all similar, in that they make up for a lack of traditional size with their skating and offensive excellence. Toss in bigger kids like Evan Bouchard, Noah Dobson and Bode Wilde and it’s a bountiful blueline crop at the top end. But out west, Smith stands alone.
“He’s the best prospect in the WHL,” said one scout. “A very smart, mobile puckmover. Really good poise with the puck and really good patience. He’s going to play a lot of minutes.”
There’s a very good chance only two players from the WHL will go in the first round this year - Smith and Moose Jaw defenseman Jett Woo (but fear not, Dub lovers; next year’s top-10 could be heavy on western kids) - and Smith is the ranking member thanks to his upside.
The Spokane Chiefs rearguard finished second in scoring among WHL blueliners this season to New York Islanders pick David Quenneville, with Smith putting up 73 points to Quenneville’s 80. Opportunity is a big reason for Smith’s production, but he has also earned that right to rush up the ice.
“I have the green light for the most part, the coaches have been great with that,” he said. “From the defensive side of things, I’ve been working on that quite a bit. The better I defend, the more I can help the offense.”
In the first round of the playoffs, Smith put up seven points in seven games, but his Chiefs fell to rival Portland in the end. That’s no fun for Spokane fans, but it does give Team Canada a very nice option on the blueline for the world under-18s, which take place in Russia at the end of the month. That tournament is a scouting feast and while Canada is never at full strength due to the CHL playoffs, Smith would be an excellent addition.
The youngster has already repped his country in Europe on several occasions, starting with a silver-medal performance at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Norway and more recently, gold at the Ivan Hlinka tourney in the Czech Republic.
“It’s pretty cool going over there,” Smith said. “The times I’ve gone have been with a great group of guys and great coaching staffs.”
The first overall pick in the 2015 WHL bantam draft, Smith’s success obviously isn’t a shock, but at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, he’s part of the recent vanguard proving to the hockey world that size doesn’t matter nearly as much on the blueline as it once did.
Rooming with Edmonton Oilers first-rounder Kailer Yamamoto on the road for part of this season gave Smith a window into the life of an NHL draft pick and Yamamoto was always there to answer any questions.
Smith himself will face a lot of questions when he has his formal interviews with NHL teams at the draft combine in Buffalo, but based on his skill set, one of those queries could probably be when can you start?