I’m going to just come out and say it; barring a disaster of a training camp, Ty Smith will be starting the 2021 season on the New Jersey Devils’ blue line. Brian questioned whether he would or wouldn’t just over three months ago, but a lot has changed since that article. Since that September writing, free agency has come and I guess technically gone. With the lack of improvements made to the defense via free agency, as well as at least one player (Mirco Mueller) ahead of him on the depth chart not being re-signed, Smith seems like a no brainer to get some sheltered minutes.
Even with him being one of the Devils most talented prospects, the expectations for him should be tempered for next season. Firstly, he will still be an NHL rookie; unlike two other recent first round picks of the team (Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, if you blanked out for a second) Smith did not enter the NHL in the season following his draft. Instead, he spent the past two continuing to ply his trade in the WHL. While Smith could best be described as “dominant” for those seasons, the odds of him entering the NHL and showing that same level of play are fairly low.
Even some of the most skilled NHLers have needed adjustment periods when first coming into the league. Ty Smith is certainly a talented kid, but if anyone is expecting him to come in and be a top pairing, all situations defender right out of the gate, well they probably need to rethink that theory just a bit. He’s bound to experience growing pains, and while he’s improved his all-around game, he’s still primarily an offense-based defender. He’s going to do a great job with transitioning the puck and chipping in some points; however, be prepared for some Damon Severson-esque gaffes as Smith adjusts to the NHL game.
Another tricky component specific to this season is the fact that it will not be a full, usual 82 game NHL campaign. Not only is it shortened, but we’re looking at divisional realignment, as well as possibly playing more games within the division. This could be really good or really bad, depending upon deployment and usage, which leads us to the final factor: new coaching! This has been a variable discussed in a lot of articles revolving around the Devils this year, but it is a large unknown. If the coaches use Smith correctly, and allow him to make small mistakes without reprimand, he could blossom in front of our eyes. If not, we could see another young Devil have his development impeded by usage.
So after all of this, what should we expect? Given all of the variables, the non-traditional season, and the fact that we’re talking a rookie, I would say a fair assessment would be a regular bottom pair (or better) defender, who gets some power play time and chips in roughly 15 points. I know the point total might seem low, but if we’re only looking at 56 games or so, that would equate to roughly 22 points over a full 82 games, which I think is a fair ask for a sheltered defender. If Smith shows he can handle more minutes, bump him up, particularly if Will Butcher struggles and/or Ryan Murray gets hurt. I’m aware that he traditionally plays the right side, but I don’t see him bumping P.K. Subban or Damon Severson down to the bottom pair; not this season at least. If he struggles, keep him where he is. I think if he’s playing nightly over the likes of Dmitry Kulikov and Connor Carrick, then we should consider Smith’s 2021 season a success.
What are you hoping to see from Ty Smith this upcoming season; do you think he will be in New Jersey? Where do you see him playing in the lineup? Do you think he will be a regular over the likes of Carrick and Kulikov? Is 15 points too high, too low, or just right of an expectation? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!