New Jersey Devils: Are There Long-Term Worries About Ty Smith?

New Jersey Devils defenseman Ty Smith (24): (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
New Jersey Devils defenseman Ty Smith (24): (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports) /

New Jersey Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald basically said his current core consists of four players. After the trade deadline, he considers the present and future of this franchise to be Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Mackenzie Blackwood, and Ty Smith. Smith is the late addition here, putting up some impressive numbers in his rookie season. He’s been very good offensively, and seemingly he’s made some really good plays defensively. However, with all that flash, there are some statistics that his season might be a measure of great situations all happening at once.

Obviously, his offensive numbers cannot be denied. He’s been awesome from the point, and his primary assist numbers are some of the best in the league. There’s clearly an offensive driving factor here, too. He’s first on the team in total high-danger chances on the ice at 5v5. He is also .08% behind Dmitry Kulikov for the best high-danger chance percentage on the team.

It’s not all sunshine and fairytales for Smith this season. Honestly, it probably has more to do with the team around him that he’s forced into a lot of situations he shouldn’t be. While he’s being “protected” as best he can (every full-time defenseman on the team has more on-the-fly shift starts than Smith), there’s only so much that can be done with this offense. Damon Severson has fallen off from his incredibly hot start. Finding a good defensive partner for Smith is difficult. Either way, there are some scary numbers when you really dig into them.

Just as a comparison to “JFresh”‘s analysis, Bowen Byram has a 49% WAR with a 70% EV offense. This is taking a lot of stats into account while trying to find a complete number on his impact. WAR has been around for a while in baseball, and it’s now the standard for looking into a player’s real impact. It’s not there for hockey yet, but it definitely brings up a conversation.

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There is one player currently on the team that might breed some confidence issues. Will Butcher was phenomenal in his rookie season. Then, in his second and third seasons in the NHL, then-head coach John Hynes tried to work on his defensive numbers. It ended up ruining him as a player completely. He had 23 power-play points in his rookie season. He has two total the past two seasons. His CF% at all strengths went from 59% to 54.8% to 48.7%. He went from very good to above-average to bad.

Smith’s focus has definitely been on offense, but his defense hasn’t been terrible. He needs to be graded on a curve since; A. he’s 20 years old and B. he plays on probably the worst defensive unit in the league. He’s put in a situation to try and stop odd-man rushes too often. Unlike Butcher, Smith has been placed into situations where he actually has to make a good defensive play. He also has much better skills than Butcher, especially when it comes to skating and playing the puck in transition. Admittedly, it’s not the best comparison because they are very different defensemen.

So, the short answer to the question in the headline is “no”. Smith will be fine defensively. He was forced to play first-line minutes way too early, and he’s done just fine. Smith and P.K. Subban are the only reliable defensemen on the team, and that’s not even saying much. He’s doing the best he can with what he’s been given. There’s a reason he’s a part of the core, and he should get better as he ages.