For the final part of our series this week, we’re profiling USNTDP center Will Smith. While he doesn’t qualify as a potential elite talent like the other four players in this series quite yet; he has a ton of potential and could still be our long-sought after top-line center.
If the worst possible outcome happens at May 8th’s NHL Draft lottery and the Jackets are picking fourth, they will likely have to make the first difficult decision of the draft. Assuming Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, and Leo Carlsson go 1, 2 and 3 as expected, the team picking fourth will have to decide if they want to take a big power swing on Russian winger Matvei Michkov – or look for a safer bet.
For the Blue Jackets, the most likely player to be that “safer bet” is Will Smith. He’s the next best center in the draft after the big three listed above; and while he doesn’t have the same elite level sniping ability of Bedard – or the big bodied playmaking ability of Fantilli or Carlsson – he’s a really good center, who I think has a shot to be a top-two line player in the NHL.
Checking in at 6’0″, he has a good frame for the NHL, but he will need to add some weight to his 170-or so pound frame. Smith doesn’t have any one specific standout skill, but he’s a good all-around offensive player who skates well, can distribute the puck, can shoot, has a knack for where he needs to be, and a competitive edge that drives him to dominate the game. He scored 48 goals and 123 points for the USNTDP this season, which is no easy task.
Defensively, he’s a pretty mature player for someone his age; a willing contributor in his own zone who does a lot of the little things you hope to see out of a top line center. I think teams will be pretty confident in rolling him out against any competition, in any situation, because he works hard to get the puck back and then produce at the other end.
Smith will be taking the NCAA route this fall, heading to Boston College where he’ll look to further his development. But, in 2-3 years’ time, I think he could be an NHL center that plays an effective two-way game. He may not become a big 100-point threat like the other names on this list, at least, not on his own; but he does project as a productive offensive player that will do anything it takes to help his team win. For these reasons, he’s the safe pick, you know what you’re getting.
I can see a lot of disappointment from the fan base if we wind up with this player at the draft, and I get that. But, that disappointment should only be because we’ve missed out on potential generational talent at the top of the draft – not because we aren’t getting a good player. I think if he’s selected, Will Smith would immediately become the best forward prospect in an already stacked system, and we shouldn’t be upset about that.