In case you’ve been living under a rock – well, not The Rock because then you would know, but a rock – the New Jersey Devils are really, really, shockingly good.
I know, I know, after spending the entire offseason reserving myself – and you all – to a quiet season of marginal improvements, here we are, with the Garden State’s finest sitting in third place in the East with five points while owning the division’s highest points percentage at .833.
Supercharged by new head coach Lindy Ruff, the emergence of Yegor Sharangovich, and Jack Hughes blossoming into a two-point per game performer – all the while without Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Aaron Dell – the Devils suddenly look like legitimate contenders for a playoff spot who may very well become buyers at the trade deadline for some additional shooting from a player like 2021 feel-good story – and Cherry Hill native – Bobby Ryan, as opposed to selling off expiring contract players like Kyle Palmieri and Ryan Murray.
But semi-lost in this fantasy first week of the 2020-21 NHL season – at least from a macro perspective – is the emergence of Ty Smith as a legitimate dark horse challenger for the Calder Memorial Trophy.
The NHL game isn’t too big for new New Jersey Devils defenseman Ty Smith.
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When the New Jersey Devils landed Ty Smith with the 17th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, he was near-universally deemed ‘a year or two away’ from being NHL ready.
While many viewed the then-18-year-old Lloydminster, Alberta native as a potential top-pair blue-liner worthy of being picked in the top half of the first round, some questioned if his otherworldly numbers in the WHL – recording 235 points in 236 games for the Spokane Chiefs – clearly that hasn’t been a problem through the first week of the season.
In three games of action – exclusively playing on the third-line alongside long-time AHL-er Matt Tennyson – Smith ranks third on the team in points (three) and third on the team in +/- (three) all the while averaging only 19 shifts and 15:43 on-ice time a night.
Though, again, the sample size is rather small, Smith has shown a fantastic eagerness to take shots on goal (five) and even has the rare distinction of scoring his first goal on his first night in the NHL and a point in each of his first three NHL games – the only Devils’ defenseman to ever accomplish that feat in the franchise’s history.
Smith has shown good ice awareness, an active stick, and a pension for always getting around the puck in a positive way without cheating too much out of his zone. Granted, his game has been a bit more one-way than many a fan would like to see when he’s a finished product – as he currently ranks seventh on the team in blocks (two) and ninth in takeaways (one), but Smith has unquestionably played himself into a bigger role and should remain a fixture of Ruff’s rotation when Sami Vatanen eventually joins the squad at… some point in the future.
While going all-in on winning now can be a ton of fun, especially when it ends in a Stanley Cup win, there’s a special kind of joy that comes from a homegrown draftee working their way into the NHL and developing into the player many a fan dreamed of a few short months/years earlier. Though it’s still a bit too early to tell if Ty Smith falls into that category moving forward, it’s pretty remarkable to see not one, but two players from the New Jersey Devils’ 2018 draft class shining right out of the gate. If that trend continues, this team may go from early-season feel-good story to legit contender in no time.