Produced by the WHL in partnership with BC Tree Fruits, “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” is a multi-part series highlighting the next generation of WHL stars set to embark on a journey pursuing NHL dreams. “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” can be seen monthly at WHL.ca, featuring a key member of the upcoming 2018 NHL Draft Class. Together, the WHL and BC Tree Fruits are “Growing the Game’s Best Talent.”
For most 18-year-olds, they’d be in the process of completing high school and preparing to leave home to begin their adventure of life. Spokane Chiefs defenceman Ty Smith isn’t like most his age though, standing out among those around him.
At the age of 18, Smith has already seen most of the world, playing hockey locally, provincially, nationally and on an international scale. The next step is a trip to Dallas, Texas late in June where it’s all but guaranteed that the Lloydminster, Alta. product will hear his name called as one of the top overall prospects in the draft, nevermind just one of the top defensive players available.
In his list of hockey milestone though, this won’t mark the first time his name has been called high up. Back on May 7, 2015, Smith was selected first overall by the Chiefs in the 2015 Western Hockey League Bantam Draft. Since then, he’s proved that the U.S. Division team from Eastern Washington made the right decision.
“The biggest thing I tried to focus on all year is to just have fun with my teammates, try and win some games,” said Smith. “I talked with people at the start of the year, my teammates and coaches, and the thing that they said would help me out the most is if I just play to win every game and just have some fun.”
What followed in the 2017-18 campaign was the Chiefs’ most productive season in year, which saw Smith’s stock rise substantially as he helped guide the team in a competitive U.S. Division. The team’s 41 wins were the most since the 2012-13 season while their 282 goals for were the most by the team since they tallied 210 in the 2010-11 season.
Smith led the way offensively with 73 points (14G-59A) in 69 games, finishing third in team scoring and second among all WHL defencemen. In the playoffs, he added seven points (2G-5A) in seven games, finishing in a tie for second in team scoring. As Ty was looking to improve his own draft stock, he was tested in U.S. Division that featured top-tier prospects who had gone through the same process as him in previous years. Still, Ty embraced the challenge and credited fellow Albertan and Chiefs captain Tyson Helgesen for helping him adjust to the league.
“It’s always a challenge to play against great players in this league, but you have to give those guys a lot of credit,” said Smith. “There’s lots of skill around the league on every team. I think something I owe a lot of credit to is my defensive partner, Tyson Helgesen.
I played with him the second half of my 16 year-old year and then just about the whole year this year. He’s a great defensive guy, great captain. I’ve just continued to work on my body positioning and my stick positioning to help me defend.”
With a front-row seat to the action, Chiefs head coach Dan Lambert was treated to watching Smith’s development while also playing a role in helping shape the defenceman’s future. The former Swift Current Broncos defenceman went through a similar process back in 1989. It wasn’t the first time he had watched Smith play though, seeing the blueliner play at a tournament in Kelowna, B.C. during his WHL Bantam Draft year while Lambert served as head coach of the Kelowna Rockets.
“I knew the composure and the poise that he had,” said Lambert. “Other than that, [I] didn’t know a ton about him. I think the biggest thing that I wanted to help Ty with was the ability to it was okay to make a mistake.
“I felt that that was important. I gave him some freedom to allow his game to grow to hopefully a new level.”
Smith has embraced Lambert’s challenges of playing him against other team’s top lines and succeeded offensively at the same time too. Success is nothing new to Smith though. A champion at both the Alberta Major Bantam AAA Hockey League and Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League, Smith’s pre-WHL career included him being named the AMBHL’s Rookie of the Year, the most valuable player in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League’s Bantam Prep Division, a silver medallist at the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George, B.C. the AMHL’s Top Defenceman and the top defensive player at the 2016 Telus Cup.
Those are just the accolades he’s earned domestically as well. Competing for Hockey Canada at the Youth Olympic Games, World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and twice at the IIHF World Under-18 Hockey Championship, Smith has captured a pair of silver medals and a gold.
Competing against his peers, Smith says he doesn’t notice much of a difference when he compares playing internationally to when he suits up for the Chiefs. Maybe that’s his maturity talking, but it could also be because wherever Smith goes, he’s been a leader at each step, captaining Canadian squads and wearing an ‘A’ for the Chiefs last season.
“Rarely can a coach talk about a 17 year-old that he’s a true pro, yet I feel like Ty as a young player, I don’t know that I’ve seen maturity and the level of compete every single day,” added Lambert. “He comes to the rink everyday and he wants to get better.”
As if Smith’s reputation as a strong defensive player in a division brimming with offensive talent wasn’t already enough, June’s NHL Draft will add to that as older players in the league look to stay one step ahead of the talented prospect while younger players will be looking to establish themselves in the league by beating Smith on the ice. It’s a challenge he welcomes with open arms.
“I like playing when guys are always gunning for me so it’s lots of fun.”
If there’s one place it’s hard to beat Smith though, it’s in the classroom. While he was busy climbing the scoring ladder, Smith’s grade-point-average was also on the rise. At the 2018 WHL Awards in early May, Smith was named the recipient of the Daryl (Doc) K. Seaman Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s Scholastic Player of the Year. With his dad hoping to instill a school-first attitude and his mother a teacher, Smith has come to understand and appreciate that if he takes care of things in the classroom properly, he’ll be that much closer to getting back onto the ice again.
“I feel that I did pretty great at that growing up,” he added. “That’s something that I always want to be good at for the rest of my life.”
Smith has taken an active approach to learning on the ice as well, learning from the likes of NHL prospects Kailer Yamamoto and Jaret Anderson-Dolan in preparing to play at the professional level.
“Everything they do is stuff that needs to be done if you want to play at the next level,” Smith added. “It’s great to have those guys around to follow and see what they’re doing.”
The passion for learning may not stop, but give it some time and Smith will soon be the teacher as well as a student.