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New Jersey Devils prospect Ty Smith put together a spectacular campaign in 2018-19 and it did not go unnoticed, as he was recently named WHL defenseman of the year.
Smith amassed an impressive 69 points in 57 games for the Spokane Chiefs. While he fell a little short of winning the team's scoring title, Smith led the way in points per game among those to appear in 35+. That's quite rare to see from a defenseman, especially an 18-year-old.
What's particularly encouraging about Smith is how productive he was at 5v5. He averaged .60 points per game in that state, which is one of the highest outputs we've seen from a WHL defender in a long time. The same can be said of his estimated points per 60 (2.06).
Dating back to the 2010-11 season, only two defensemen have appeared in at least 50 games and produced more points per game, or more points per 60, than Smith at 5v5.
With regards to raw production, the two to best Smith – Josh Morrissey and Ivan Provorov – were drafted higher and had more high-end talent around them (Morrissey played with a top-5 pick in Leon Draisaitl, and Provorov played on a Memorial Cup caliber team with 1st rounders like Nolan Patrick and John Quenneville). Only one other top-7 scorer on Spokane (Jake McGrew) was drafted, and he was a 6th round pick.
Even if the talent level for the supporting casts of Morrissey and Provorov were identical to Smith, it'd still be impressive for the latter to keep that kind of company.
Morrissey is one of the more underrated two-way defenders in the NHL and, while Ivan Provorov is coming off an up-and-down year, he produced 30 points as a 19-year-old rookie and built on that with 40 points in his 20-year-old season.
Andrew Nielsen aside, the other players to produce more than .55 points per (Henri Jokiharju, Travis Sanheim, and Shea Theodore) all look quite capable of developing into top-4 defenders, or have already done so. That's not even mentioning the fact Smith easily out-performed other notables like Morgan Rielly, Ryan Pulock, and Brandon Carlo.
Replace Nielsen with Martin Gernat and it's basically the same cast of characters who produced 2.0 points per 60 or more – and, again, almost all of them turned into very good players.
Does that guarantee
Smith will pan out as hoped and develop into a quality top-4 defender? No, but history suggests the chances of that happening are high.
That's very good news for a Devils team in desperate need of another building block on the back end.
Note: data via prospect-stats.com.
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