2023 Draft Prospect Profile: Will Smith is a dynamic, highly skilled center
Does Jarmo reach outside the consensus "top 3" and select the electric center?
The 2023 NHL Entry Draft is rapidly approaching, and it's time to look at who the Blue Jackets could pick on Wednesday, June 28th. The Columbus Blue Jackets own their first rounder, the third overall pick, as well as the LA Kings' pick, which will likely be in the 20s. Next up: Will Smith
Will Smith is a name that we've heard more and more in recent months as he posted the one of the BEST EVER seasons with the U.S. National Development Program. Smith put up absolutely gaudy numbers, averaging over 2 points per game, besting the seasons of many NHL superstars in years past. After being on the outside looking in on the "top tier" of the NHL draft, Smith has smashed down that door and barged his way into the conversation for the third overall pick. He's pretty much a lock to be at least a top 5 pick this year.
Smith is a dynamic offensive talent, and despite finding the back of the net 51 times in 60 games for the USNTDP, he is more of a playmaking center who likes to drive play and have the puck on his stick. Smith centered the program's most productive line in history this season and he ranked second all-time in points in a season, only behind his linemate Gabe Perreault. He's also second in points in his USNTDP career, trailing only New Jersey Devils superstar, Jack Hughes. To put it simply: Smith is in elite company.
He capped off his ascension up draft boards with an unreal performance in the U18 Worlds, where his team took home the gold medal. In 7 games, Smith posted a 9-11-20 statline, including a hat trick against Slovakia in the semi-final game, as well as this nasty goal against the Finns.
Smith may not be as "safe" of a pick as Leo Carlsson in the #3 spot. While he doesn't necessarily have the desired "prototypical" size, he's definitely the more explosive player and has a more dynamic skillset. However, his game is less complete than Carlsson and there are some holes in his game. His defensive play will need some work as it is reported he often appears disinterested in the d-zone, which is somewhat common for big time offensive talents. It certainly appears that Smith has the higher ceiling, but a lower floor than Carlsson.
He's committed to Boston College next year, so Smith won't bring an immediate boost to the Jackets, but just think of how much better he can be after a year playing at an elite hockey school like BC. Just ask Johnny Gaudreau or Cam Atkinson.
I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see Jarmo Kekalainen go "off the board" just a bit and take Will Smith over Leo Carlsson. It has been hinted at in mock drafts and even by the Jackets' own beat writer, Aaron Portzline.
Date of Birth: March 17, 2005
Birthplace: Lexington, Mass.
Height: 6'0" / Weight: 172 lbs
Ranked #9 by ELITEPROSPECTS.COM
Ranked #6 by FCHOCKEY
Ranked #6 by DAILY FACEOFF
Ranked #5 by THE HOCKEY NEWS
Ranked #6 by TSN/BOB McKENZIE
Ranked #5 by MCKEEN'S HOCKEY
Ranked #6 by TSN/CRAIG BUTTON
Ranked #3 by NHL CENTRAL SCOUTING (NA Skaters)
Ranked #5 by SPORTSNET
Ranked #5 by RECRUIT SCOUTING
Ranked #7 by DOBBERPROSPECTS
Ranked #5 by DRAFT PROSPECTS HOCKEY
Ranked #8 by SMAHT SCOUTING
Games Played: 20
U.S. National U18 Team
Games Played: 60
Can't really argue with those numbers. He played like a man among boys and his skill was unmatched amongst his peers. It will be interesting to see how he performs as a freshman next year in college, and to compare his season to that of presumed #2 overall pick Adam Fantilli's Hobey Baker award winning year.
When it comes to Will Smith’s game, this is the most attractive to scouts. His offensive game is something to admire sometimes. His hands are phenomenal, and paired with his skating, is dangerous. He possesses a fantastic vision and can target teammates in high-danger areas consistently. When it comes to scoring, he can stick handle through everyone and get to dangerous areas himself to generate scoring chances. He’s got a pretty complete offensive skill set. But, this is also where concerns may arise. - Kyle Pereira, Last Word on Sports
“He’s one of those players that’s got a real subtle excellence to him,” Button said of Smith. “All of the sudden, he needs to go a little bit faster, and he does. He needs to make a pass, and he does. He needs to maneuver the puck into a shooting position, and he does. You better know where he is on the ice because if you don’t, chances are you’re about ready to get slayed.” - Craig Button
Smith is a dynamic offensive player who stands out every game with his talent. He has tremendous puck skills, vision and overall offensive creativity and projects to be a major asset on an NHL power play. He skates well and makes so many high-difficulty plays at a strong pace, which lends well to his pro projection. Smith is a high-end passer who is also able to finish chances from the dots. The only real wart in his game is I wouldn’t call him an overly physical or high-energy player. I don’t think he lacks effort. He’s around the puck a ton whenever he’s on the ice and even at times killed penalties for the program. - Corey Pronman, The Athletic