NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Top prospect Will Smith, a center from the U.S. Development Program, spoke to the media Tuesday ahead of Wednesday's NHL Draft. Smith, who committed to play at Boston College next season, is projected by many to be a top-five selection in the draft.
Smith had a fantastic season in 2022-23, scoring 51-76--127 in 60 games with the National Team Development Program and capped off his season by leading Team USA to a gold medal at the U18 World Championship where he was named MVP, leading the tournament with nine goals and 20 points in seven games. He helped set records at the USNTDP with his line-mates Ryan Leonard and Gabe Perreault, who are also expected to be first-round picks this year.
Here's what he had to say to the media:
What has the process been like?
Smith: "It's been pretty crazy. I think just starting to go to the national team and ever since then, everything kind of took off. It's kind of crazy [that] it's already over but this summer especially has been nuts, just going to Vegas and Buffalo and now here so I've gotten to see pretty cool cities. So it's been fun."
Was it hard to manage the expectations in your draft year?
Smith: "I think just trying to enjoy it. I mean it's pretty cool again to be here and getting to have all the cameras and stuff like that. So I mean starting the year we knew is gonna be a big year. I mean, we got to be around the U18s last year, the [2004 birthdates] who obviously got drafted last year so they helped us a lot."
If it ends up being the Blue Jackets at No. 3 overall, do you know anybody on the team?
Smith: "I grew up watching Johnny Gaudreau at [Boston College]. I think I had his jersey, Johnny Hockey so I obviously know him.
You talked about playing against older players in the USHL this year and you make the leap to college hockey next year. Are you looking forward to that, maybe testing yourself even more against even older guys?
Smith: "Definitely getting ready for the NHL is something college hockey is great for so you get to play against some older guys, and especially Hockey East is a really tough league so look forward to it."
Do you have any idea what you want to do in terms of how many years you want to spend at Boston College?
Smith: "I don't."
You talk about being from Massachusetts. Fellow Massachusetts native Matty Beniers won the Calder on Monday. What does it mean for you to be a hockey player from Massachusetts?
Smith: "It means a lot. I think obviously Matty is great. [I was] texting him a little bit just kind of gave me a little advice can and I texted him congrats but just like guys like him, it's just awesome, [Jack] Eichel obviously, just see him win the Stanley Cup. It's pretty cool."
On that note how excited are you to play in the Beanpot?
Smith: "I can't wait. I think we're all fired up to kind of get there."
How long have you been waiting for what's going to happen Wednesday night?
Smith: "I would say [since I was] four or five this [has been] my dream. Obviously, every kid says that. But probably [at] 13 I was kind of like, 'yeah, this is what I want to do.' And now I'm here it's a little weird, but it's kind of crazy."
What will the post-draft process be like?
Smith: "I mean, obviously the draft is a huge deal, but it's just the draft. Once you get picked, it's in the past. So I think after that it's a whole new journey and you're right back to work."
Your line at the U.S. program broke records held by Jack Hughes and Auston Matthews. What does that say about the three of you specifically?
Smith: "It's obviously special seeing those guys. Some of those guys are our idols. [I] wouldn't have done it without [Leonard and Perreault]. It's not a one-man line. So I think playing with those two made it a little easier on me. And it's obviously nice getting to go to practice and games with them."
Will the Jackets take Smith? We'll find out Wednesday night.