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FEATURE: Devils prospect Ty Smith wins CHL Defenseman of the Year

Smith earns honors as top blueliner in all of Canadian Major Junior hockey

by Peter Robinson / Special to newjerseydevils.com

HALIFAX - Devils prospect Ty Smith has won the Canadian Hockey League's defenseman of the year award at the annual ceremony at the Memorial Cup. 

Evan Bouchard of the London Knights, an Edmonton Oilers prospect, and free agent Charles-Edouard D'Astous of the Rimouski Oceanic were the other nominees. The national honor follows the Western Hockey League award that Smith picked up three weeks ago. Smith's winning both awards caps a stellar three-year run that Smith has had with the Spokane Chiefs, who took him with the No. 1 overall pick in the WHL draft in 2015. 

The CHL defenseman of the year was first awarded in 1988 and Smith's name now joins a list that includes current NHL defensemen Thomas Chabot (Ottawa), Ivan Provorov (Philadelphia), Dougie Hamilton (Carolina) and Ryan Ellis (Nashville), who have all won it in recent years. 

"Winning the WHL award was awesome," said Smith, "The fact I got to receive this CHL award means a lot. There are some big names on that trophy, so it's cool to see (mine)."

Tweet from @CHLHockey: Congrats to @NJDevils prospect @_tysmith_24 of @TheWHL���s @spokanechiefs the 2019 #CHL @RealCdnSS Defenceman of the Year Award recipient: https://t.co/Y9Fp5TDQNf pic.twitter.com/qPGFplaT14

Smith said that it wasn't a specific goal of his at the beginning of the season to win WHL/CHL honors. 

"I never really thought about winning this at the beginning of the year," said Smith. "I wanted to be the best I could be but I didn't set it as a goal to win the CHL trophy."

The Devils selected Smith with the 17th overall selection at the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas. Smith's development and having him sandwiched between No. 1s Nico Hischier in 2017 and whomever the club picks first overall next month in the prospect pipeline is a positive that hides in plain sight amid the hoopla of having twice won the lottery. 

The question now is whether Smith will make the jump to the big club next year. As a Canadian major junior product, the American Hockey League is not an option until the 2020-21 season, so Smith either must make the big club out of training camp, or return to junior. 

Smith was reasonable but clear in expressing his desire to be with the Devils come October.

"Hopefully I can play pro hockey next year," he said. "But if I do come back to junior, I just want to keep improving."

If he does return to Spokane, he will re-assume a leading role for the Canadian World Junior team. Smith, along with Bouchard, was a leader on the Canadian blue line this year. Team Canada lost in overtime to the Kaapo Kakko-led Finns in the quarterfinals on home ice in Vancouver. 

He was joined in Halifax by his father, Wayne Smith. The elder Smith operates his own sign-making business in Saskatoon and has watched his oldest child excel at all levels of hockey. The national d-man honour is simply the latest episode in Ty Smith's maturation, shaking off questions about his perceived lack of size to now being considered one of the best teenage hockey players in the world. 

"He's always been doing that, been adapting to the competition and next (challenge)," said Wayne Smith, "ever since he was in peewee, bantam…it's just always been a natural progression."

The Canadian major junior leagues are not always for the faint of heart. WHLers are drafted at 15 and most elite players, like Smith, suit up full-time by 16, often several hundred miles from their hometown. According to his father, the emotional and logistical hurdles of Smith's hockey journey have never fazed him. 

"With Ty, his best attribute is his brain," said his father. "Whatever challenge there has been, he just guts it out and meets it. That's what is going to happen next. He's going to figure out a way to compete and make plays, and break-up plays, against men."

There was a telling moment as Smith and the rest of the major award winners were being fitted for their rings on Saturday afternoon. A CHL representative was using a standard ring sizer to gauge finger sizes. Young men are not exactly versed in the finer points of wearing jewellery; there were some awkward moments even deciding which finger to use. 

"Isn't that my married finger?" asked one winner. 

After a long wait for his turn, Smith stepped up. The test ring slid on perfectly and without any fuss. 

Another typical showing by Ty Smith. 

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