Originally posted Apr 22, 2021.
Former Spokane Chiefs 21-year-old defenseman Ty Smith deserves recognition as a candidate for the NHL’s Calder Trophy. The former first-round 2018 NHL Draft pick of the New Jersey Devils made his NHL debut on January 14th, scoring his first NHL goal in the process. He then went on to post points in his first five games.
Sure, his point totals are not eye-popping, or jaw-dropping this season. He ranks seventh overall among all rookies with 21 points on two goals and 19 assists.
Smith didn’t start out as an offensive machine for the Spokane Chiefs either. In his rookie season (2016-17), he scored five goals and added 27 assists in 66 games, good for 13th among rookies and third among rookie defensemen. Smith then went on to score more than a point per game in his final three WHL seasons and was twice named to Team Canada’s U20 team. Smith also won back-to-back WHL Defenseman of the Year awards (Bill Hunter Trophy).
There is no doubt the offense will come, once trust has been cemented from within the organization.
Where Smith excels is in munching minutes as a rookie.
His 20:15 ranks third among all rookies this season in the NHL behind Mikey Anderson and K’Andre Miller. Neither of those skaters comes close to his .48 points per game (Anderson .20, Miller .23). Both are also defensemen for their respective teams.
The time on ice shows Devils Head Coach Lindy Ruff has faith in his rookie defenseman. He has paired Smith recently with P.K. Subban and told the ‘Inside the Devils‘ blog how he felt about Smith and Subban’s play on April 14th.
“I thought that pair played very well,” Ruff said. “They moved the puck well. I thought our whole group moved the puck well. But I’m looking for a twosome that can defend against anybody and create some offense. I thought I got a little bit of both of that.”
The Devils are mired in a seven-game losing skid and have missed the NHL playoffs this season. They are the 30th ranked team based on points percentage this season (.378) ahead of just Anaheim and Buffalo.
When looking across the NHL’s 301 defensemen that have played at least one game, Smith’s 20:15 time on ice ranks 86th. His 19 assists ties for 26th overall.
In his last game on April 18th against the New York Rangers, Smith logged a season-high 25:25, besting the 24:06 he played against the Buffalo Sabres on February 20th.
Smith’s point totals pale in comparison to the rookie scoring leader, Kirill Kaprizov who has 19 goals and 19 assists for the Minnesota Wild. Kaprizov though is 23 years old and plays for the fifth-ranked Minnesota Wild. He plays just 18:13 for the Wild and 15 of his 38 points come on the power play. Smith has just seven power-play points.
When comparing apples to apples, or in this case defenseman to defenseman, fellow WHL alumni Jake Bean is the next highest scoring NHL rookie defenseman. Bean has one goal and 10 assists in 33 games with the Hurricanes. He plays just 13:51 on average and six of his 11 points come from time on the power play.
Last season there were three exceptionally good defensemen leading the way in league rookie scoring. Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes, and Adam Fox all finished at .60 points per game or more. Makar, who finished with 12 goals and 38 points and 21:01 TOI in 57 games for the Colorado Avalanche went on to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.
While Smith is not quite on the level of those three defensemen, he is definitely comparable to the other rookies in the 2020-21 class. If I had the opportunity to vote in the Calder Trophy race, he’d get mine.