In keeping with this week’s theme, today’s post will focus on another young player that is expected to compete for a spot on the 2020-21 New Jersey Devils. This player is defenseman Ty Smith, the team’s 1st round pick from 2018, who is coming off of a very successful junior career with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League (WHL). The Devils defense is far from set for 2020-21 with only four of their established NHL defenders signed for next season. This group includes P.K. Subban, Damon Severson, Will Butcher, and Connor Carrick. All of of those players with the exception of Butcher are right-handed defensemen which is notable since Smith, a left-handed defenseman, could have the inside track to earning a spot in training camp. Let’s take a look at Smith’s background, his competition for a spot, and his contract status.
Who is Ty Smith and What Has He Done So Far?
Ty Smith is a left-handed defenseman that was selected by the New Jersey Devils with the 17th overall selection in the 2018 NHL Draft. His WHL page notes that he was born on March 24, 2000 so the 2020-21 season will be his age 20 season. It also lists him at 5’11”, 175 lbs. so he isn’t a big defenseman but should be able to get by on that frame due to his skill-set. Going back to his draft, a few scouting outlets thought Smith would go higher in the draft due to his offensive skills so the fact he fell to the Devils at #17 was a welcome surprise.
Smith spent his entire WHL career with Spokane and served as a captain the past two seasons. He finished with 45 goals and 190 assists for 235 points in 240 regular season games. Spokane didn’t enjoy playoff success but Smith did show up across their two campaigns from 2018-19 with 3 goals and 13 assists for 16 points in 22 games. Smith did earn plenty of WHL and CHL honors during his career. In 2017-18 he was named to the WHL (West) First All-Star Team and the WHL Scholastic Player of the Year. In 2018-19 he was named to the WHL (West) First All-Star Team, the WHL Top Defenseman, and CHL Defenseman of the Year. In 2019-20 he was named to the WHL (West) First All-Star Team and the WHL Top Defenseman. Smith dominated the WHL due to his skating, vision, and passing. His puck moving abilities helped him spring attacks with quality outlet passes and join in rushes as an auxiliary forward. He also made his presence felt on special teams as a legitimate PP QB.
Smith also represented Canada at the U17, U18, and U20 levels during his junior career. He captained Canada Black U17 at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge to a Silver Medal while also being named to the U17 WHC All-Star Team in 2016. He represented Canada U18 twice at the U18 World Junior Championship, once serving as captain. He helped Canada U18 to a Gold Medal at the 2017 Hlinka Gretzky Cup as an alternate captain. Smith also participated twice in the U20 World Junior Championship. The team didn’t have success in 2019 but he served as an alternate captain in 2020 and helped them to a Gold Medal with 3 assists in 7 games. I think the fact that he has worn a letter for both Spokane and Canada on numerous occasions speaks to his leadership qualities.
During his career, he steadily improved his scoring rate across his four full seasons with the Chiefs with a 0.48 Pts/GP in 2016-17, 1.06 Pts/GP in 2017-18, 1.21 Pts/GP in 2018-19, and 1.28 Pts/GP in 2019-20. This is represented well on Byron Bader’s Hockey Prospecting Player Comparison Tool below:
Smith’s Star Probability (0.70+ Pts/GP) hasn’t changed much overall from his draft year, dropping 4% to 35%. His NHLer Probability (200+ games) has decreased from 84% in his draft season to 71% based off of this past season. I wouldn’t be alarmed by that at all as so many prospects don’t come close to a greater than 70% chance. To put it simply, Smith is going to be a NHL player and that could very well happen as soon as opening night in 2020-21.
Who Will Challenge for a Roster Spot Alongside Smith?
Thanks to Cap Friendly, we can see that the Devils currently have four established NHL defensemen signed for 2020-21. This group includes P.K. Subban, Damon Severson, and Connor Carrick on the right side and Will Butcher on the left. Mirco Mueller is a left handed defenseman that’s a restricted free agent (RFA) and has experience. If he is re-signed he will be among the competition for Smith on the left side. Fredrik Claesson is another left handed defenseman that saw time with New Jersey last season as a throw-in in the Janne Kuokkanen trade. He’s an unrestricted free agent (UFA) and I don’t see him coming back.
Other notable left handed defensemen that are signed and turning pro in 2020-21 include Kevin Bahl and Nikita Okhotyuk. They’ll have a chance to compete against Smith in training camp though I think Smith’s odds of making the team are much higher. Smith’s two-way game with his above average offensive skills distinguishes himself from Bahl and Okhotyuk. Bahl is a large, hulking defender with an intimidating physical game and Okhotyuk is a under the radar, defensive defenseman but neither possesses the upside that Smith has. Plus, I think both of these players would benefit from some time with Binghamton to get acclimated to the pro game.
There is a trio of young defensemen with varying degrees of experience that I think will look to challenge for a spot on the left side of the Devils blue line. This is led by Colton White who has played in 9 NHL games for New Jersey over the past two seasons where he’s averaged 14:04. He’s a RFA but I expect the Devils to retain him and give him a shot to earn a spot in his upcoming age 23 season. Next, and with quite a bit of distance between themselves and White, is the duo of Colby Sissons and Jeremy Groleau. Sissons is entering his age 23 season and Groleau his age 21 season. Both of these prospects have split some time at the AHL and ECHL levels and barring an incredible jump in their development will be heading back to the minor leagues.
I haven’t included Reilly Walsh in this competition with Smith as Walsh plays on the right side but he also has a chance to play for New Jersey next season. Michael Vukojevic is an unsigned LHD that the Devils own rights to until June 1, 2021. I didn’t put him in the competition as another year with Ktichener in the Ontario Hockey League should be beneficial for him. I also haven’t included any free agent signings though I should mention that some notable LHD on the market include Torey Krug, Brendan Dillon, and T.J. Brodie to name a few. Signing a free agent LHD wouldn’t rule out Smith from making the team as they could still go FA, Butcher, and Smith down the left side, but it would make the competition for the final LHD spot more intense.
To sum up the above, I think Smith’s main competition is Mueller (if he’s re-signed) and White. His secondary competition is Kevin Bahl and Nikita Okhotyuk. A free agent signing would change the competition from potentially two open LHD spots to just one.
Contracts & Waiver Status
Smith is still under his three-year Entry Level Contract that he signed on August 20, 2018. Since he’s spent 2018-19 and 2019-20 playing in the WHL, his contract his slid for two years and will begin with 2020-21. Like all ELC’s, his cap hit is low at $894,167 so if he’s able to make an impact early on, then the Devils will get solid value out of that deal. It is also important to note that Smith is exempt from waivers. That means the team can freely send him between New Jersey and Binghamton without having to risk losing him. Let’s use Cap Friendly’s Waiver Calculator and see where Smith and those players I deemed his competition stand.
- Ty Smith - Exempt until 2023-24 or 160 NHL games played.
- Mirco Mueller - Waivers Eligible
- Colton White - Exempt until 2020-21 season or 151 NHL games played.
- Kevin Bahl - Exempt until 2023-24 season or 160 NHL games played.
- Nikita Okhotyuk - Exempt until 2023-24 season or 160 NHL games played.
- Colby Sissons - Exempt until 2021-22 season or 160 NHL games played.
- Jeremy Groleau - Exempt until 2022-23 season or 160 NHL games played.
Mueller is waiver eligible so the Devils would run the risk of losing him should they re-sign him but ultimately try to send him down at some point. With that said, I think Mueller is the type of player that could end up passing through waivers but you just don’t know how the other 30 NHL teams rate him. I think White is another main competitor to Smith and he’s set to lose his waiver exemption in 2020-21. If there is a situation where Smith and White play equal to each other in camp, then I can see Smith going down to Binghamton. This would allow them to keep White and get an extended look at him in the NHL. It would also allow Smith to adjust to the pro game at the AHL level and stay ready to be among the first call-ups. Smith is going to get games for New Jersey, though I think he’s likely to also see some degree of AHL action.
As I said earlier, I think Smith has a much better shot based on his game and development of making the Devils over Bahl and Okhotyuk. The waiver status doesn’t impact that at all. I also don’t think Sissons or Groleau are close to contributing at the NHL level and their waiver status doesn’t change anything.
As of right now I think it’s more likely than not that we see Ty Smith start the 2020-21 season with the New Jersey Devils as opposed to the Binghamton Devils. The Devils have openings on the left side of their defense and Smith is poised to take advantage of that. His game has developed well in Spokane over the past few seasons and now at the age of 20 he seems ready to make an his presence felt at the NHL level. While the Devils adding a veteran LHD via free agency or a trade would complicate matters, it still wouldn’t completely rule out Smith for that final LHD spot. In terms of players the Devils either have the rights to or have signed, I think he has a better chance to out perform Mirco Mueller or Colton White. I think he’s further along in his development than Kevin Bahl and Nikita Okhotyuk as well. I think the spot is his to lose at this moment in time.
With all that said, Smith having to spend a bit of time in Binghamton would not be a bad thing at all. It would give him a quality environment to adjust to the pro game and play more minutes than he would get at the NHL level. Ultimately, the Devils need to look out for his development since he is a key piece of this organization’s future.
Now I want to know what your thoughts are on Ty Smith’s chances of making the Devils roster. Do you expect him to make it for opening night? Do you think he will play exclusively in the NHL in 2020-21 or do you think he’ll split time between New Jersey and Binghamton? Leave your comments below and thanks for reading!