Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2020 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.
Ty Smilanic of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team can take pride in the fact he's made the most of a difficult situation this season.
Smilanic scored 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in 34 games and is No. 24 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2020 draft. But in addition to having his 2020 NHL Draft-eligible season cut short due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound center missed 13 games because illness and injury, including mononucleosis in September, a high ankle sprain in November and a broken finger in February.
"I never really had a significant injury before this year, so I saved it all for my draft year I guess," Smilanic said. "You can treat it two ways. You can be negative about it and think the world is against you, or think positive, and I've tried to be as positive as I can and use it as motivation.
"I'd rather face it at this point in my life than later on, and you can always try to do something to get better. That's what I'm trying to do."
Smilanic played through the ankle injury to help the United States win the Five Nations Tournament in November, with two assists in three games.
"The way I look at it, my games might be limited in a USA jersey, so I need to participate and be appreciative of every opportunity I'm given," he said.
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Smilanic also wore a cast on his finger when he played for the NTDP against the United States Hockey League All-Stars at the USA Hockey BioSteel All-American Game at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan, on Jan. 20. He scored a goal, had two shots on goal and was a plus-2 in the NTDP's 6-1 victory.
"Ty is an explosive, world-class skater," NTDP coach Seth Appert said. "He is certainly one of the most dynamic players of the draft and has shown that while playing through numerous injuries this season."
Appert said Smilanic has all the tools required to becoming an effective two-way center at the next level.
"Ty's game has matured and he's starting to use his speed to become a strong defensive player with his ability to put pressure on the puck," Appert said. "This increase in defensive pressure along with his increased strength in the weight room has allowed him to spend less time in the defensive zone and more on the attack."
Smilanic was born and raised in Elizabeth, Colorado, about an hour south of Denver, and became hooked on hockey the first time he saw a Colorado Avalanche game at Pepsi Center.
"The Avalanche shaped me into loving hockey," Smilanic said.
Smilanic was a big Avalanche fan, and it was Hockey Hall of Famer Joe Sakic who made Smilanic want to become a hockey player.
"[Sakic] was actually my coach when I was 10," Smilanic said. "He was one of my summer coaches for a few years. I was too young to probably pick up hockey aspects at the time, but I'll always remember him as such a great human being. Meeting Joe Sakic really had an impact on me."
Sakic retired as a player in 2009 and has been the Avalanche's general manager since 2013.
"I couldn't really pinpoint something specific, but I would never guess he was an NHL legend from the way he treated people," Smilanic said. "He treated everyone as if they were just as good as him, and to me that was awesome."
Next for Smilanic is playing at Quinnipiac University starting next season.
"I'm looking forward to going the college route and get started," he said. "When I visited, I felt right at home and really felt like they wanted me to be there. Nothing was fake."
Smilanic isn't concerned over the fact injuries and ailments limited him this season. And neither are the scouts who watched him.
"Ty Smilanic is on course to set his own path; he plays a dynamic game on the puck utilizing his speed and quickness to generate and produce offense," said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. "He gives a consistent effort and is relentless on pucks. Everything he does is high energy, utilizing his speed, quickness and competitiveness."
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