New Jersey Devils defenseman Ty Smith really did have a notable 2021 season. He made the NHL team. He played in all 48 games. The run of play generally went in the right direction when he was on the ice and the shot and expected goal differential was only just below breaking even. He even led the blueline in points with two goals and 21 assists while averaging a bit over 20 minutes per game. For as much criticism the Devils’ defense earned - and they certainly did earn it - Smith showed he can be part of a better and brighter blueline in the future. This is further supported by the honor he earned this evening: Ty Smith was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team for the 2021 season.
This is an honor similar to the All-Star First and Second Teams for the NHL’s players and it is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Three forwards, two defensemen, and a goaltender are selected annually for this team. This year’s All-Rookie Team consists of Smith, goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic of Carolina, defenseman K’Andre Miller of Our Hated Rivals, forward Kirill Kaprizov of Minnesota, forward Josh Norris of Ottawa, and forward Jason Robertson of Dallas. As per the press release, Smith is the sixth defenseman in Devils history to be named to the All-Rookie team. He joins Will Butcher, Colin White, Brian Rafalski, Scott Niedermayer, and Eric Weinrich in that group. That is not a bad group to be a part of. While Butcher’s career remains in progress, the other four played in this league for quite a long time.
As the NHL announced its other awards (no Devil won any of them), this honor was the only one that went to a Devil. Smith did finish seventh in the PHWA’s vote for the Calder Trophy, which is awarded to the best rookie in the league. It should not surprise you that the award went to the league’s leading scorer among rookies, the electric Kaprizov. It may surprise you a little bit that it was nearly an unanimous victory; the NHL’s announcement listed he received 99 first place votes and one second place vote. Somebody - maybe a Dallas-based member? - gave a sole first place vote to the runner up, Robertson. Smith earned 25 points from a single third place vote, three fourth place votes, and eleven fifth place votes. He beat out Nils Hoglander of Vancouver, Tim Stützle of Ottawa, and fellow Devil Yegor Sharangovich - who earned 17 points for a second place vote (!), a fourth place vote, and seven fifth place votes.
This is where I have to eat a little crow on the behalf of the blog. Back in May, we announced our own awards for the 2021 New Jersey Devils season. Smith was not named the Best Defenseman or the Best Rookie among our own awards. They went to Damon Severson and Sharangovich, respectively. Smith was narrowly beaten out among the writers’ votes in both. As it turned out, the PHWA saw both differently when it was time to make their choices. Those who would have preferred to have seen Smith win one or the other in our annual tradition can now feel more justified in their preference. In a two-word statement: Our bad.
Nevertheless, this news should be seen as encouraging. It is not just Devils fans who think Smith was one of the better rookies in the NHL last season and has a bright future. There are Hockey Men and Women of the media in the PHWA who felt that way as well. The NHL was not short on talented rookies in 2021. Smith making the NHL All-Rookie Team is a real achievement for the player, the team, and the fans to be proud of.