Yesterday, Mike wrote a quality post about how with the new additions to the New Jersey Devils this offseason, Jesper Boqvist has sort of become a wild card. If he performs well in camp and perhaps on a short tryout with the big club without burning a year of his ELC, he could bolster a forward corps that already looks plenty deeper than last season. If the coaching staff feels he needs some more seasoning, however, they have brought in the pieces to still be competitive without bringing him up too early.
As I was reading that article, it made me think of another player who also has that wild card status heading into training camp and the start of the season: 2018 first round selection Ty Smith. While Ray Shero was definitely active on offense, bringing in Jack Hughes of course but also Wayne Simmonds and Nikita Gusev, he was not silent on defense either, of course bringing in P.K. Subban. That might have been the one real addition on the blue line for New Jersey, but it is enough to put Smith in the same situation that Boqvist finds himself. At this point, if opening night were tomorrow, one probable setup for the defense could be:
Sami Vatanen – P.K. Subban
Andy Greene – Damon Severson
Will Butcher – Connor Carrick
Of course, we could have a debate on the exact setup of that defense. Maybe you think Mueller should play over Carrick, or that Greene should now be a third pairing guy and Butcher should be given more defensive responsibility. Or maybe you think Severson should remain in the top pairing. All of those are quality thoughts, and a lot could happen between now and the actual opening night.
However, what is also clear is that John Hynes does not have a desperate need for Ty Smith. At this point, there are seven clear guys there that can handle the load night in and night out that should not be an absolute anchor on the team. With that exact defensive corps plugged into Sean Tierney’s lineup projection simulator, he projects the Devils with 89.13 points for the season. That is missing the playoffs, but way above where they finished last season.
However, what is also clear from another of Sean’s tools, this one the prospect percentiles, is that Smith is very good, and should be breaking into the NHL at some point, probably sooner than later if he keeps improving. In fact, Tierney has a 82.26% chance on Smith making the NHL. Smith’s chart can be seen here:
His overall value is very high, and showcases a belief that he should provide a positive boost to the defensive corps in New Jersey when he does break in permanently. His projected WAR is keeping his average rank down, as his is adjusted points per game played, but some of that can be chalked up to playing in the WHL last season, and thus not playing against some of the tougher competition that others have played in, especially those playing in professional European leagues. Once he adjusts to tougher competition, his rank would only rise.
In truth, his current position puts John Hynes in a good position. If he judges that Smith needs more time, he can send him back to Spokane and still ice the likes of Carrick, who played significant minutes after coming to NJ last year. His numbers were not exceptional , but then again the team overall was pretty atrocious at that point in the season, and he really did not have much help. Given a more sheltered role on a better team, he could be much better.
However, should Smith shine in camp and the preseason, he could play right away. Throw him in a bottom pairing role, somewhat sheltered, and give him good experience while also providing a talent boost to the team. Smith has a lot to provide, and if he realizes his potential, one day will be a staple defenseman, possibly top pairing. That is a higher ceiling than Carrick or Mueller provide. If he is ready, he upgrades this defense right away, and Hynes would not hesitate to play him.
In this way, Smith is another wild card for Hynes and this roster heading into the start of the season. Come October, we may see both Boqvist and Smith in Newark. On ELCs, both could play some games before being sent down. However, if both prove themselves, they would both be quality depth upgrades with high upside. If not, well Hynes doesn’t need to sweat. He can send them down to get better while still icing a quality lineup night in and night out. That is a nice position to be in.