Devils’ Ty Smith still looking to prove he belongs on NHL roster

Ty Smith finds himself in a precarious situation in his second training camp with the Devils.

The 19-year-old, whom the Devils drafted No. 17 overall in 2018, failed to make the team’s roster last fall and returned to his junior team in the Western Hockey League, the Spokane Chiefs. If the NHL brass wanted to see continued development from Smith last year, they sure got it — he scored 69 points in just 57 games played, led Spokane to the WHL conference finals and earned the CHL’s Defenseman of the Year award to top it all off.

After the Devils’ preseason game against the Bruins on Monday, Smith said he feels more comfortable in his second go-around in an NHL training camp.

“Some new faces, but mostly guys I’m pretty familiar with [from] playing a couple preseason games last year and going through camp,” Smith told Sporting News. “It’s been pretty fun so far, so I hope that continues.”

Team management has not yet determined whether he’s ready for the NHL this year, but it seems the Devils’ top defensive prospect is ready for a jump to tougher competition. Unfortunately, though, Smith’s only options this year are the NHL or juniors once more. As The Athletic’s Corey Masisak noted before training camp started, the league’s agreement with the Canadian major junior leagues requires players younger than 20 to return to their junior team if they are not assigned to the NHL.

For Smith, it means he can’t play with the Devils’ AHL affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., yet — even if it would best serve his development this season.

He played an impressive game against the Bruins to open his preseason campaign. Smith notched two assists and skated more (23:16) than anyone else on New Jersey’s roster in a 4-3 overtime win. Even star defenseman P.K. Subban, completely new to the organization, took notice.

“[Smith], he’s a young guy, but man he looks good out there,” Subban said.

In his next game on Wednesday against the Rangers, Smith skated fewer minutes than any other Devils defenseman and was attributed with three giveaways. The Devils won that game, too, but it was a very different evening for the young blueliner.

Smith’s play may not need to be perfected in order for him to make the NHL roster, but on a defense that now includes a true top-pairing defender in Subban in addition to last year’s regulars, it could be hard for Devils coach John Hynes to find a regular place for Smith. Teams want prospects to skate a lot of minutes more than anything else as they develop.

The Devils issued Smith No. 24 when he arrived in New Jersey for training camp. In his third exhibition game, No. 24 will reportedly skate alongside No. 28, Damon Severson, against the Islanders. It will be Smith’s second game in a row playing with Severson, a five-year league veteran. Smith told reporters he hopes the familiarity they gained against the Rangers can allow him to play a stronger game against the Islanders.

“If I see a play I think I just have to make it,” Smith said. “Use my skating ability to my advantage, my playmaking ability, and I think I just kind of need to have some fun. I’m a younger guy here, and I think that’s something lots of younger guys forget coming in. They’re thinking about every factor, everything but just having fun.

“When I’m playing my best, I’m having fun out there — obviously working hard, so I’m being competitive, but definitely trying to have some fun, skate, and make plays.”

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