This was the least divisive draft in recent Devils history. The past three years have been full of controversial decisions that have reaped mixed results. Nico vs. Nolan, McLeod vs. Brown, Zacha vs. Provorov are all very real debates Devils fans had in year’s past. Not this year. Finally, a pick was made that united the entire Devils fandom.
Ty Smith…The young defender fell to New Jersey at 17 during the first round of the draft. Pre-draft, it was thought Smith was a potential top 10 pick, and many had him going to the Oilers or Islanders at. Some people even had Smith ranked above 10th overall pick Evan Bouchard. Suffice to say, the Devils scouting department must have been over the moon when he fell in their laps.
Smith is the perfect defenseman for the modern NHL. He excels in transitioning the puck from defense to offense. Defensemen’s main priority nowadays is to retrieve the puck on dump-ins, and quickly get it out of the zone. Smith has all the skills to do this at an elite level. He has high hockey I.Q. along with smooth skating. He is very calm and collected with the puck and rarely makes mistakes. If anything, he is too safe at times, and him adding some offensive creativity could go a long way into making him a star.
This isn’t to say he is good offensively. He is excellent in the opponent’s zone. Smith can be counted on to run a power play, and distribute the puck from the blue line. His passing and vision are two tools that stick out most when he is handling the puck. Smith is never scrambling to make a play, and is able to slow the game down and find the open man. He knows when to jump in and play below the dots and when to sit back. Smith doesn’t possess a booming shot, but has a skill that is even greater; getting the puck on net. Smith often uses his skating and agility to open up shooting lanes, which allows for him to utilize his accurate wrist shot. He isn’t a goal scoring defenseman, but can put the puck in the net when he gets the opportunity.
Smith produced at an extremely high level in the WHL with 73 points in 69 games. Devils 2016 first round pick Michael McLeod’s career high in the OHL is 73 points in his D+1 year. Smith produced more offense last season than Flyers prospect Ivan Provorov in his draft year. It is safe to say Ty Smith is in some good company.
Defensively is where you see Smith’s I.Q. shine. He is extremely responsible in his own end, and often has to outthink opponents due to his size disadvantage. Smith has an active stick and is rarely caught out of position. His skating allows for him to keep up with onrushing forwards. His skating prowess also serves as a safety valve if he ever gets caught pinching at the blue line. Smith has a lot to improve on at this end, but it is more buffing out the scratches rather than a complete remodeling.
Smith is also a proven leader. His teammates love him and he has taken on leadership roles for Canada in international tournaments. He has all the intangibles on top of his outstanding skillset.
At the NHL level, Ty Smith should become a player similar to Morgan Reilly. Reilly is leaned upon heavily by the Leafs to move the puck up the ice and create offense. Smith possesses a lot of the same skills, along with the penchant for being a minute eater. It was a gift to this franchise that he was available at 17. Smith will be a staple in the Devils top four the second he makes the NHL.
To be completely honest, the rest of the Devils draft was mediocre. They selected some decent players, but none of them are standouts like a say, Jesper Bratt. These guys are mostly projects and that is all you can expect beyond the fourth round.
Xavier Bernard…Bernard was an interesting selection. He is pretty big at 6’3” and had a strong season in the QMJHL, scoring at more than a .5 ppg pace. Bernard is known as being a more physical shutdown defenseman. According to Devils head of scouting Paul Castron, there were times when they were viewing him that he looked better than first rounder Nicolas Beaudin, so that is promising. Bernard models his game after Marc-Eduard Vlasic and if he becomes half the player Vlasic is, the Devils got a steal.
Akira Schmid…I understand there are no standout goalies in the pipeline but the Devils have got to stop selecting 18-year-old goalies. They are so hard to judge at this age, it is almost impossible to predict their future. Having said that, Schmid does have good size at 6’4”, so that makes him a better bet than most. Nonetheless, I don’t think this is a very good pick. Goalies should be signed or traded for, not drafted.
Yegor Sharangovich…If I had to put money on the one late round pick, it would be Sharangovich. He is an overager who was routinely a standout for the Belarus national team at U18’s and World Juniors. He is a hard-working left wing who tallied 12 points in 47 games in the KHL. His contract is expiring, so he might come right over to Binghamton, which is a plus. Sharangovich will get a shot at the NHL due to his tenacity and surprising amount of skill. Once he gets called up, I think he will be in the NHL for a long time (at least relative to other fifth round picks).
Mitchell Hoelscher…This kid has some real sleeper potential. He improved as the 2017-2018 season progressed, and was playing big minutes as the second line center on the Ottawa 67’s by the end. Hoelscher is described as a tenacious pest on the ice with some above average hockey I.Q. He is lauded for his forechecking ability and 200-foot game. The 67’s are poised to be a contender in the next couple of years, so Hoelscher should get an opportunity to really bolster his production. He could potentially be a nice get in the sixth round.
Eetu Pakkila…A small skater from Finland would round out the Devils selections in this draft. Pakkila played in the Junior A SM-Liiga, and posted some surprisingly good numbers for a seventh round pick. He had 23 goals and 17 assists in 48 games. He is known for his puck handling ability and skating. There is a good chance that (if he is able to grow and fill out his frame) he could make the jump to pro hockey in North America. He will certainly be a more long term project, but the skill and skating fits in line with what the Devils are trying to build. Next year will be key in seeing what the future holds for Pakkila.
Besides Smith and Sarangovich, I don’t see any of these guys making an impact in the NHL within the next three years. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the Devils have been spoiled with Jesper Bratt, so I feel the need to clarify. Smith is a perfect fit in the Devils pipeline and is no question the organization’s new top prospect. Overall, I’ll give the Devils a solid B+ on this draft (would have been an A- if they didn’t pick a goalie).