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2023 NHL Draft: Will Smith On Growth, Ties To Canadiens Hughes



NHL Draft

The 2023 NHL Draft class is projected to be very top-heavy this year, with one such player, Will Smith, already a well-known commodity for the Montreal Canadiens.

The 17-year-old from Lexington, Massachusetts,has been playing some impressive hockey for the last year for the United States Development Team (USNDT) this season.

It’s an important year for the Program and Smith, as they look to rise above the imposing shadow cast by last year’s impressive U-18 team; led by Logan Cooley, Cutter Gauthier and Lane Hutson.

“Last year, that group got a lot of media attention, and I think a lot of people counted our group out. I think it lit a fire under us,” said Smith regarding the tall task of following the very successful 2022 NHL Draft class for the USNDT. “We’ve had a great start to the year. Being part of a group with a bunch of great players.”

Smith has been an offensive force for the USNDT, posting 28 goals and 41 assists for 69 points in 37 games at the U-18 level; while also registering eight goals and 14 assists for 22 points in just 12 games at the USHL level.

What’s been more impressive, however, has been his elevated play against NCAA competition; a collection of friendly games the USNDTP routinely plays against top NCAA schools to give these talented youngsters a taste of what’s to come.

Not only did Smith step up to the challenge, but, in over 15 games against collegiate competition, he was blanked from the scoresheet only twice; and came up big against top schools like Michigan University and North Dakota.

“Going to a building like North Dakota or BU or one of those big-time schools ; it’s not too hard to get up for games like that,” said Smith on his ability to elevate his game against tougher competition. “I think when people see us playing those kinds of schools, they kind of look in and see what’s going to happen now that we’re playing the big boys. I think just being ready for the game and not being scared of anyone. We treat it just like a USHL game or an international game. We see it as an opportunity for our group.”

Due to Smith’s great playmaking ability and impressive speed, he’s at his absolute best when the puck is on his stick in the offensive zone.

The 6′, 172lbs forward may play centre at the U-18 level, but he intends on continuing his venture down the middle at the pro level; working hard during practice and games to improve his 200-foot game.

“I do see myself as a centre,” said Smith regarding where he sees himself playing in the pros. “I like having the puck on my stick. I like being able to see everyone in front of me. I’ve also been working on my faceoffs this year, because it’s a huge part of the game. I like the style of play that a centre brings.”

Despite a very successful individual and collective year for Smith and the USNDT, the young pivot only has one goal in mind when it comes to this season: Winning gold at the U-18s in late April.

“A gold medal, that’s all I’m going to say,” said Smith when it comes to his main goal for the season.

After putting up two goals and two assists for four points in four games for the United States last year as a 17-year-old, Smith is looking to cap off a stellar draft year with a prime role in bringing gold home; after a heartbreaking loss to Sweden last year.

Relationship With Kent Hughes

With his stellar season solidifying his standing within every top-10 list for the upcoming 2023 NHL Draft, his rise to the top of the rankings puts him right in the range of where the Montreal Canadiens could be picking come June.

It’s an interesting proposition; as Smith has many of the qualities the Canadiens currently lack at forward like top-end speed, elite hands and playmaking ability and  a true dual-threat talent in the offensive zone.

MUST READ: Midseason 2023 NHL Draft Rankings

But, the Canadiens likely already know that, with current Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes not only being very familiar with the 05-born players, but also having coached Smith for many years with the Boston Jr. Eagles.

“He was my coach for about two or three years, but I knew Kent before from when he was in the agency world, and I knew his kids too because we all went to the same school, St-Sebastian,” said Smith regarding his existing relationship with the current Canadiens general manager. “We knew his family and then he became our coach and, from there on, he was great; such a great hockey mind. You see him now, he’s the GM coming from coaching our team; it’s pretty cool.”

With Will Smith and fellow teammate Ryan Leonard both being products of the Massachusetts amateur hockey system, Hughes is well aware of the talent he may have the luxury of picking within the first few selections of the 2023 NHL Draft.

Hughes has been an influential hockey personality for Smith in the past, and he continues to keep in touch with the youngsters as he strives to improve his game and become an impact player at the NHL level.

“Having him around was really nice. Just having his phone number to text or call him for advice; to see if he sees something in your he wants to talk about,” said Smith about keeping in touch with Kent Hughes. “He’s a great resource. We’ve kept in touch (since Hughes became general manager).”

Although the draft is still four months away, it’s already been an eventful season for the USNDT’s star centre, and it has a very unique opportunity to come full circle when his name is called between 8 and 9 p.m. on June 28.

Time will tell.

To listen to the full interview, you can watch or listen to it in its entirety below

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If the Habs come away with less than Smith at the draft, I’d be disappointed. I checked out some video on him a few day’s ago. He is every bit as slick as Nick. Potentially, he could be an excellent option lining up next to Caulfield.

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