The Montreal Canadiens made an expected move Wednesday night, dealing away coveted defenseman Ben Chiarot to the Stanley Cup contender Florida Panthers. We know what the Cats got in the deal, so let's take a look at what the Habs got in return.
On top of a first-round draft pick in 2023 and a fourth-rounder in 2022, Montreal received a solid prospect in the deal in Ty Smilanic, a versatile forward currently playing for one of the best NCAA teams in the country, the Quinnipiac Bobcats.
Smilanic, a sophomore with the Bobcats, has 13 goals and 22 points through his first 38 games as Quinnipiac awaits its ECAC tournament semifinal against Colgate on Friday. While those numbers may not be eye-popping, it's worth noting that the Bobcats are an incredibly experienced team; all five teammates above him in the offensive rankings are seniors and Oliver Chau is a fifth-year player. But the 20-year-old Smilanic is highly regarded by the program, as coach Rand Pecknold told me earlier in the season.
"The No. 1 thing is he's a goal-scorer," he said. "He puts himself in good positions to get scoring chances and then he's got that knack to finish those chances. It's hard to find goal-scorers of his ability."
Indeed, coming out of the U.S. NTDP, where Smilanic played with the likes of Matty Beniers and Jake Sanderson, the youngster was seen as an offense-only player, allowing Florida to draft him 74th overall in the 2020 draft. But the kid has rounded out his game at Quinnipiac.
"I give him credit, he worked as a freshman and took another jump as a sophomore," Pecknold said. "He's getting better with his details, whether it's faceoffs or defensive assignments. And a big thing he has improved on this year is his battles. He's gotten physically stronger and what I've always said to him is that when you win those 50-50 battles, we have the puck and we can go play offense. He's had a very nice natural progression in maturing and becoming more of a 200-foot player."
Smilanic can play center but has been on the right wing a lot this season thanks to a problem every coach can live with: too many pivots. Quinnipiac has three seniors and a junior who can play down the middle, so Smilanic has shifted over. And playing both with and against older competition in the ECAC has been a positive, as the kid himself told me earlier this season.
"The ECAC is an older league and people may say it's not as skilled but it could honestly be the hardest in college hockey because so many games are 1-0, 2-1, so every single play in the game is crucial," Smilanic said. "It's intense; guys are bigger and stronger, so I've had to figure out ways to be successful in that league."
No matter what happens in the ECAC tournament, Quinnipiac will be in the national Frozen Four and thanks to their depth, experience and goaltending (Yaniv Perets has played out of his mind this year), the Bobcats could earn their first title. It won't be easy of course, but with talents like Smilanic on the roster it's possible. And once he's ultimately finished with his college career, Smilanic can try to help the Canadiens get back into championship form.