While the 2021 season was not a success for the New Jersey Devils, it would be difficult to say the same about Ty Smith in his rookie campaign. The New Jersey Devils defender not only posted good numbers during his first full season with the big club, but also averaged the third most time on ice per game of all defenders to play for the team. Not a bad debut for a player who made the team in his first season out of juniors and doing so during a compressed season.
Suffice to say between his high level of play and the Devils questionable depth on the left side, Smith will be somewhere among the Devils Top 4 defenders this season. The hope is that he will continue on the path he began on last season and hopefully hone his craft into that of a top pairing defender. But what more can Smith do? What realistically can we/should we expect of him this upcoming season? Let’s take a brief dive into that.
With 2 goals and 21 assists over his 48 appearances last season, Smith’s total of 23 was good for 7th best on the entire team, and best among all defenders. His -9 wasn’t as desirable, but to be fair to Smith, there were few Devils that broke even or were in the pluses by season’s end. Smith’s offensive ability led to him being given the keys to work on the power play, where his creativity and puck handling skills led to multiple good scoring chances for the team. While said scoring chances weren’t always capitalized upon, Smith was rarely, if ever, a liability on the man advantage, and hopefully his comfort on that unit will lead to even greater things this upcoming season.
Based on what he did in his rookie season, the hope would be to see Smith increase his 048 ppg total, and to do so across a full 82 games, which thankfully shouldn't be nearly as condensed as last season. How can he do that? Well, a little puck luck would go a long way for him! Smith put 69 shots on net last season and a mere 2 of them went in for a shooting percentage of 2.9. While defenders shooting percentages may not break into double digits like those of forwards do (superstars notwithstanding), 2.9% is unsustainably low for a defender as skilled as Ty.
Even if that percentage weren’t to increase, Ty putting more shots on net will earn him a few more goals to help increase his total. As per assists, the Devils are hoping that their forward core with another year and the addition of Tomas Tatar in free agency can put the puck in the net more often. Smith’s ability to facilitate may not be as good as say, oh, that of Jack Hughes, but he’s no slouch in terms of finding a lane and moving the puck around. If the recipients of his passes can find some openings, Smith might see his point total jump rather than slightly increase. My hope here would be roughly a 0.55 ppg pace for Ty, which would equate to 45 points over a full season. While it’s only a modest boost over his ppg from 2021, I think Smith will still be acclimating to playing 82 games.
As per his defending, I think Smith was one of the better players on the back end for New Jersey last season, if not the best. He has good awareness, good anticipation and knows how to make the correct play way more often than not. I think there’s a few rough edges to his game that he can polish, mainly just learning from prior mistakes that he made. If he can continue to play with the confidence that he did in his rookie season, I don’t see his defending being an issue. He’s not a big, bruising player who can push a guy off the puck, but he has shown he has the smarts to separate it from his man and get play going in the right direction.
So to summarize (and technically answer the article title’s questions) I would define a successful sophomore season for Ty Smith as an increase in his ppg percentage while maintaining or increasing the level of defense that he played last season. It could also be argued that sustaining last season’s ppg pace across a full season while still defending at a high level would also be a success, and I would accept that while operating under the assumption that we would want to see an increase in production in 2022-23.
What are your thoughts on Ty Smith’s upcoming sophomore season; what in your mind would make it a success? Do you want to see increased point production> Is consistency in defending more important to you? Is it a combination of the two? Leave any and all thoughts below and thanks as always for reading!