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PensBurgh Top 25 Under 25: #1 - Ty Smith

He was one of the best rookie defensemen in the NHL in 2021, then slumped in 2022. Now, Smith is ready to bounce back with the Penguins.

New Jersey Devils v Ottawa Senators
Ty Smith skates for the New Jersey Devils against the Ottawa Senators on April 26.
Photo by André Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

Over the past few weeks, we’ve taken you up the list of the most exciting young players in the Penguins organization.

Now we’re at the top.

Check out 22-year-old Ty Smith, a 2018 first-round draft pick ready for a change in scenery.

Related: 2022 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: Graduates and Departed

#25: Nolan Collins
#24: Colin Swoyer
#23: Jonathan Gruden
#22: Ty Glover
#21: Kirill Tankov
#20: Judd Caulfield
#19 Corey Andonovski
#18: Jordan Frasca
#17: Isaac Belliveau
#16: Taylor Gauthier
#15: Alex Nylander
#14: Nathan Legare
#13: Tristan Broz
#12: Raivis Ansons
#11: Lukas Svejkovsky
#10: Filip Lindberg
#9: Filip Hallander
#8: Valtteri Puustinen
#7: Joel Blomqvist
#6: Sam Poulin
#5: Drew O’Connor
#4: Ryan Poehling
#3: Owen Pickering
#2: P.O. Joseph

#1: Ty Smith

2021 Ranking: NR

Age: 22 (March 24, 2000)

Height/Weight: 5’11”/179 lbs.

Acquired Via: July 16 trade with the New Jersey Devils, in exchange for John Marino and 2023 third-round pick

Elite Prospects Resume

During his NHL debut on January 14, 2021, Ty Smith scored.

After that, the points just kept coming.

Smith marked the scoreboard again in each of his next four Devils games, becoming only the second rookie defenseman in NHL history to begin his career with points in five straight games. (The first: Marek Zidlicky in 2001.)

By the end of the season, Smith led all rookie defenseman in production with 23 points (2-21—23) in 48 games, and finished seventh in voting for the Calder Trophy.

Then 2021-22 arrived, and Smith hit a sophomore slump.

His production dipped (to 20 points in 66 games), but the more eye-catching issue was increasingly frequent bed decisions with the puck which resulted in some costly Devils turnovers.

Smith’s NHL career so far has consisted of two vastly different seasons. So what exactly are the Penguins getting when their newest young defenseman joins the team next season?

Despite the turnovers on transitions and clears which plagued the young defenseman’s game last season, it’s easy to see from watching Smith where his upside is. His deft skating ability allows him to outskate opponents.

From Ben Kerr of Last Word on Sports in 2018:

Ty Smith represents the new breed of defensemen. Undersized, but highly skilled, Smith is the type of defender who is getting chances in the NHL, when in previous years he would have been overlooked.

Smith is an excellent skater. He can rush the puck up the ice, or pinch in at the blue line and still cover up his spot defensively. He has excellent speed in both directions. His acceleration is elite, as he reaches top speed in just one or two strides. Smith also has the pivots, agility, and edgework to cover large areas of the ice.

The offensive upside to Smith’s game has been apparent throughout his WHL career. In 2020, he broke his own single-game record and set a Spokane Chiefs franchise record by racking up six points (three goals, five assists) in one night.

We’ve seen this offensive prowess translate to the NHL in some crisp passes and blistering shots throughout the 22-year-old’s 114 appearances with the Devils.

The Penguins have a history of successfully “rehabilitating” slumping defenseman later in their careers, and Smith is just beginning his.

With the upside Smith showed during his highlight-studded WHL career and his successful rookie NHL season, it’s easy to see why the Penguins chose him as their next defenseman reclamation project— and why we’ve ranked him No. 1 on our 2022 Top 25 Under 25 countdown.

Because Smith is on a waivers-exempt contract and the Penguins are already full-up on defenseman, it’s possible he could start the season in the AHL. Keep an eye on how Pittsburgh’s seven defensemen rotate during training camp and preseason.

But even if Smith does begin the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, we’re almost certain to see him make his Penguins debut at some point in 2022-23. Hopefully, it won’t take long to see him on the scoreboard as well.