New Jersey Devils: Ty Smith’s Calder Trophy hype is legit

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Ty Smith‘s emergence is unquestionably the most surprising development of the New Jersey Devils’ 2020-21 season.

Sure, some will point to the Chasm Bridge-sized leap Jack Hughes made from his first season to his sophomore, the emergence of Paval Zacha as a near-point-per-game contributor deployed on the wings next to Nico Hischier, or even the first overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft’s official christening as the New Jersey Devils’ 12th Captain as bigger milestones in Garden State hockey history, but those – save maybe Zacha’s – were fairly predictable.

Many a fan assumed that Hughes would eventually get things together and flash the otherworldly puck skills that made him so highly touted coming out of high school, and Hischier’s captaincy may have been the worst kept secret in the NHL, but Smith’s jump from Spokane Chief to a top-two defensive performer may just go down as the best possible development in an encouraging all-around season.

There’s no doubt about it; Smith is not only a legit contributor for the Devils but also a serious contender for the Calder Memorial Trophy, an award New Jersey hasn’t brought home since Scott Gomez in 1999-00.

Ty Smith has made many a believer among the New Jersey Devils’ faithful.

More from Puck Prose

Through the first 20 games of the 2020-21 NHL season – at least for the New Jersey Devils – Ty Smith is without a doubt the best rookie defenseman in the NHL.

His 11 points, two goals, and nine assists all rank first among qualifying rookie defensemen.

Did I mention that the Devils have played the fewest games of any team in the NHL (outside of the Dallas Stars)? Because that feels oddly pertinent to properly contextualize just how well Smith has been playing all season long.

Even at 20, Smith has already proven himself one of the best power play quarterbacks on Lindy Ruff‘s roster, and if recent reports come to fruition, we may soon see Lloydminster’s favorite son earning penalty kill minutes alongside mainstays like Damon Severson, Dmitry Kulikov, and Sami Vatanen.

Could Smith playing quality penalty kill minutes be the key to Will Butcher finally returning to the rotation permanently over Kulikov? That, my friends, is a discussion for another article, one you can actually read here if you feel so inclined.

As things presently stand, Smith has the third-best chance to win the Calder Trophy according to Vegas Insider, sitting at a +500 or 7/1 odds depending on how you like your odds. If you’re a fan of betting and want to get in on that action, those are pretty good odds, especially when you consider Smith has appeared in two fewer games than the current favorite in the clubhouse, Kirill Kaprizov, which could come in handy down the stretch.

While Smith hasn’t scored a point in four games, that surely has more to do with the Devils’ constantly in-flux lineup and less to do with some hypothetical “rookie wall” that seemingly always creeps up any time a first-year player turns in a few less than stellar contests. Smith is roughly a week removed from turning in arguably his signature game of the still-young season with a two-assist performance in the Devils’ 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres, so something tells me his current dip in production may have more to do with the absences of players like Ryan Murray and Nico Hischier than bad play on his part.

Who knows, maybe the Devils will land a sharpshooter to help elevate Hughes’ exceptional passing, and further playmaking opportunities will trickle-down to Smith on the blueline.

Next. It’s time to play Will Butcher over Dmitry Kulikov. dark

Whether you had high hopes for Ty Smith when the New Jersey Devils drafted the then-18-year-old 17th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft or you sort of forgot about him between the hype surrounding Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, it’s safe to say no one is overlooking him anymore. Even if Smith is ultimately unable to catch up to Kirill Kaprizov and ends up being a Calder Trophy bridesmaid instead of the betrothed, something tells me having one of the best young defensemen in the NHL is a consolation prize Garden State hockey fans will happily accept with open arms.