Welcome to the 5th installment of our 'Names To Know', 2023 edition, a look-ahead at prospects who the Columbus Blue Jackets could select in the upcoming NHL Draft.
The Blue Jackets have the No. 3 pick in next week’s draft from Nashville, giving the club an opportunity to claim one of the top centers in a deep class.
Will Smith, 6-foot, 172 lb, and committed to Boston College next season, could be that guy.
In the IIHF World U18 Championship, he was MVP with a tournament-high 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in seven games, helping the U.S. win gold. His nine tallies co-led the tournament with his U.S. teammate Cole Eiserman.
Smith scored 127 points (51 goals, 76 assists) in 60 games for the U.S. National U18 Team and 42 points (15 goals, 27 assists) in 20 games for the USNTDP Juniors in the USHL.
As Blue Jackets president of hockey operations, John Davidson, said in May, the club would draft a center and Smith would undoubtedly be among those that fit the profile of what they’re seeking.
In May, our Dan Dukart put together a film session on Smith.
While it seems likely the Anaheim Ducks would take Adam Fantilli with the second pick, and that it could then be a toss-up between Smith and Leo Carlsson at three for the Blue Jackets, The Athletic’s latest mock draft has Smith at No. 4 to the San Jose Sharks, and so, we’ll find out soon.
Earlier in June, Blue Jackets radio broadcaster Dylan Tyrer spoke with The Athletic's Scott Wheeler, asking why he likes Smith to the Blue Jackets at No. 3.
"I just think it makes a lot of stylistic sense in terms of what they've tried to add and what they still need to continue to add," Wheeler said.
"(Smith)'s probably the most gifted player in terms of breaking down opponents one-on-one with the puck on his stick in this draft. Arguably, a top one, two, three sets of hands. There's a strong case to be made that he has the best hands in the draft.
"I think Smith could really fit with some of (the Blue Jackets') shooters as well, could really compliment a Patrik Laine, a Kirill Marchenko, a Yegor Chinakhov, guys who can really let it go.
"Smith has an opportunity to be one of the most productive, in terms of a point-producing perspective, in this draft after that Connor Bedard echelon that exists on its own."
Wheeler ranked Smith fifth in his latest prospect rankings:
He’s the kind of player who can beat you with a pass, a dangerous wrister (which beats goalies with timing and accuracy more than power), or a deke. He’s a treat to watch in possession and processes the game at such an advanced and rapid level.
As Blue Jackets insider Jeff Svoboda noted, Smith is ranked as the No. 3 North American skater available by NHL Central Scouting.
The Athletic surveyed scouts and players to determine where the top prospects fall among peers.
When players were asked, outside of Bedard, "Who is the most talented non-teammate you’ve played against in the class? Not necessarily the best, but the most talented," Smith led the tally, as ranked by most common.
After Bedard, there is a lot of speculation as to what happens next. If the Hobey Baker Award winner in Fantilli is on the board at No. 3, that seems like a potential slam dunk for general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and co.
But Smith also looks like the real deal.
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