Devils Fortify Defensive Depth on Day One of Draft

By Leo Scaglione Jr.
Special Contributor to MSGNetworks.com

Ray Shero did something tonight for the first time since he took over as Devils general manager in 2015.

He plucked a defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft.

After selecting a trio of forwards — Pavel Zacha (2015), Michael McLeod (2016) and Nico Hischier (2017) – in the opening round in his previous drafts, Shero took Ty Smith with the 17th overall pick in this year’s edition of the annual event.

The left-handed shooting Smith is coming off his second full season with Spokane (WHL) and is rated as the 10th-best draft-eligible prospect by The Hockey News, which projects the Lloydminster, Alberta, native as a No. 3 or No. 4 defenseman in The Show.

The 18-year-old admitted he was caught “off guard” when he heard the Devils call his name.

Perhaps he shouldn’t have since the team has had its eye on him for quite a while.

“I met them a couple of times throughout the year, and then again at the Scouting Combine,” Smith revealed. “They were great to me all year. They came down to watch quite often.”

The Devils clearly liked what they saw. And who could blame them?

Smith may not be as dynamic as fellow defensemen Quintin Hughes (drafted seventh by Vancouver) or Adam Boqvist (drafted eighth by Chicago), but he’s already had praise heaped on his defensive game, particularly by one scout who was interviewed by The Hockey News.

“What does he not do?” the scout said. “He plays top-pairing minutes. He gets first defensive assignments. He’s not as offensively dynamic as those top guys, but neither of them can defend even remotely compared to him.”

It should come as no surprise then that Smith’s hockey idol has always been Blackhawks blueliner, Duncan Keith.

“Duncan is a special player, and if you could take any parts from his game, it’ll help,” Smith said.

Smith has already started doing that and feels his own strongest asset is “definitely” his hockey IQ and the way he thinks the game. He adds that his vision, the way he sees the ice, plus his play-making ability and skating are also strengths.

KELOWNA, BC – MARCH 03: Ty Smith #24 of the Spokane Chiefs skates with the puck against the Kelowna Rockets at Prospera Place on March 3, 2018 in Kelowna, Canada. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

Smith already has something in common with Devils captain Andy Greene and Will Butcher, and that’s his size. Or lack thereof, with his measurements being 5-foot-11, 176 pounds.

On the shorter end of the spectrum or not, it sure didn’t hinder him from producing this past campaign.

Smith finished the season second among WHL defensemen with 73 points (14 goals, 59 assists) in 69 games played, becoming just the sixth blueliner in Chiefs history to record at least 70 points in a single season. He also had a plus-minus of +44.

Another scout said of Smith: “If you’re a small D-man, you have to be smart with the puck and not panic, and that’s what this kid does. He’s able to freeze forecheckers, and he has good agility and mobility to escape pressure and make a good play.”

Still, he notes that the power behind his shot is something he must improve.

“That’s something I’ve been working on already and have been for a couple of years now,” Smith said. “It’s coming around.”

It sure came around on Feb. 23, when he had the best single-game performance by a defenseman in Spokane history, notching seven points — two goals, five assists — against Prince George.

That’s a feat he sure wouldn’t mind repeating down the line, but for he now he hopes to continue being a well-rounded man on the back end.

“I hope to bring a solid, two-way game, and help create some offense,” Smith responded when asked what he hopes to one day bring to New Jersey. “At the same time, I like to be able to defend. I take pride in that. And also having a good first pass.”

He’s already made a good first impression on his new organization!

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.