One reason Leo Carlsson isn’t the clear and evident third overall prospect? Will Smith has game breaking potential, and could be a high end top-line scorer for many years to come.
Like Carlsson, in many years, Will Smith probably challenges for the first overall slot. This season, he scored 51 goals and 127 points in 60 games with the USNTDP – scoring at a pace in the range of players like Auston Matthews and Jack Hughes in their draft years, for the same team.
Smith doesn’t have the size of a player like Carlsson, but he isn’t slight either – he checks in at 6’0″, just over 170 pounds. He plays the game with a high motor, using his speed and skill to put defenders on their heels. He’s a terrific playmaker who can create offense even at his top end speed, and he has high end finishing ability also.
While he doesn’t have an NHL-ready two-way game, he has shown a willingness and efficiency to hold his weight in his own end. Getting stronger and adding polish to his overall game is the key here – but make no mistake, from an offensive ceiling standpoint, he’s a top-5 player in this draft. He’s another candidate to be our future top line center, if selected on draft day.
All of that said, Smith is not a player that we could expect to see in Columbus this fall. He’s headed to Boston College this fall, and I’m of the belief that he needs at least one year – maybe even two – before he’s ready to take on the pro game. With a player like this, it’s important for him to play heavy minutes, keeping his offense flowing freely – while teaching him the other nuances of the game.
Confidence is key with high flying forwards like this, and putting him into the NHL too early means he probably gets outmatched physically and defensively. But, if you’re willing to play the patient game, I could see this pick working out. Smith has a huge ceiling, and I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that he can be a Mat Barzal or Jack Hughes type of offensive player in the NHL (maybe somewhere in between).
He’s not my pick in the #3 slot, but the gap from Carlsson to Smith is not as wide as some might make it seem. If the Jackets want to swing for the fences on a player that probably won’t be here for three years though, why not look at a third option?