New Jersey Devils Ty Smith has finally made the NHL. The 20-year-old defenceman from Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, was picked 17th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. After two seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs, he has cracked the NHL roster. The long-awaited debut of Smith has lead to an array of praise from NHL media and fans alike. He has deserved every bit of it.
Ty Smith’s Production
Ty Smith was one of the most impressive defencemen in the WHL during his time there. He won a variety of awards and honours from the WHL and CHL, as a whole. He won the Daryl K. Seaman Trophy in 2018, Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy in both 2018 and 2019, and was named the 2019 CHL defenceman of the year.
Additionally, he was named to the first all-star team in both 2018 and 2019. It’s safe to say that cracking an NHL roster was very likely, even if he didn’t make it immediately. His point production is something to behold.
Points are hard to use for evaluation for a defenceman in the NHL and even in general. There are much better-advanced metrics for showing overall value, especially for defence. However, there are limited resources for leagues like the CHL, so points become useful. In his draft year, Smith put up 73 points in 69 games, which was good for second among defencemen. The tear continued for the next two seasons. Smith put up 69 points in 57 games and 59 points in 46 games in the 2019 and 2020 seasons, respectively. He ranked fourth in both seasons among defencemen.
Smith showed consistent improvement in his game. His development was going as well as it could. It’s the sign of hope that Devils fans needed on an otherwise underwhelming backend.
The time finally came for Smith to make his long-awaited NHL debut. He would get that chance against the dangerous Boston Bruins. A team without stud goal scorer David Pastrnak was looking to start the season on the right foot. Smith would be immediately tested, even without the presence of Pastrnak on the always threatening “perfection line.” He worked reasonably well under pressure, notching his first NHL goal in the third period to tie the game. While both the analytics and eye test don’t suggest anything special in that game from Smith, he looked like he belonged.
Smith gradually improved his play up until the Covid outbreak within the Devils’ organization. He began to cement his place within the Devils top-four. His play-driving and goal contribution has been atop the rankings on the Devils’ roster. Smith has eight points in nine games so far, with two goals. He is eighth on the Devils in goals above replacement (GAR) and seventh in expected goals above replacement (xGAR).
Additionally, he’s second in both RAPM goals for per 60 (GF/60) and expected goals for per 60 (xGF/60). Finally, he’s third in Corsi for per 60 (CF/60). Smith’s offensive impact and value to the Devils’ defence and the team as a whole is a huge help.
His top role in the Devils’ core has provided the opportunity to quarterback the powerplay. The departure of Sami Vatanen left a spot open, and he was able to capture it. He hasn’t been great in that aspect of the game thus far, but his time in a man-advantage situation has been limited. His crisp passing and smooth skating have opened up various options on the ice, even without the results. Improvement will come with time and experience.
Another one of Smith’s weaknesses is his defence. It’s relatively straightforward that his primary role is to generate offence. However, his defence has looked extremely suspicious over this short stretch of games. His gap control is below average, and looking lost appears to be a tendency of his. The advanced defensive stats support what the eye-test is saying as well.
Smith is second to last on the Devils roster in expected total defence GAR (xDef) and worst in defence GAR (Def). His RAPM stats aren’t forgiving either. Smith is last in expected goals against per 60 (xGA/60) and fifth-worst in Corsi against per 60 (CA/60). These stats can change, seeing as the sample size is small, but they are not encouraging. Despite the lack of encouraging defensive numbers, Smith is a rookie in a bizarre year for the NHL. A little leniency is not the worst thing in the world for a player that has done exceedingly well in his role.
Ty Smith has a ton of upside in the NHL. As I mentioned before, he skates well and can open up options along the boards and through the seams. His stride is smooth, and he has a high offensive hockey IQ. There are flaws to his game, as there are with any rookie, but for the most part, he looks like a formidable piece on an ever developing blueline. Once more young pieces start to come in and develop, he will be instrumental in facilitating the puck and driving of the offence. His future coincided with the future of the Devils’ organization is sky-high.