We know the 2023 NHL Draft class is going to be one of the deepest in recent memory, and after the top two picks, there are several high-end prospects who could go anywhere in the top 10 or 15. One player who has been in the top five conversation all year long is Will Smith of the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP). Get your jokes in now, because Smith shares a lot of similarities with his Hollywood namesake—the hockey version will also be creating award-winning stuff on your television for years to come.
Will Smith can make a bee line down the middle of the ice, go one-on-one with a goalie, and take a slapshot out of nowhere that completely surprises everyone.
The USNTDP has churned out top prospects at an incredible rate for the last decade or so, and this year is more of the same. We project at least four first-round picks will come from the USNTDP, with Smith being the best of the bunch.
2023 NHL Draft Update: Will Smith was selected fourth overall by the San Jose Sharks.
Who is Will Smith?
|Will Smith||C||R||6’0″ / 184 cm||172 lbs / 78 kg|
Smith was born on March 17, 2005, making the forward one of the youngest prospects in the upcoming draft. Smith was born in Lexington, MA, USA and has played all of his young hockey career with the USA National Team Development Program.
Smith’s on-ice production
Smith has displayed consistent offensive production throughout his career, highlighted by his most recent season for the USA National U-18 team.
|U.S. National U17 Team||USDP||35||17||20||37|
|U.S. National U18 Team||USDP||28||14||13||27|
|2022–23||D+0||U.S. National U18 Team||USDP||58||48||75||123|
The right-shot centreman posted a whopping 123 points points in just 58 games, including 48 goals. His season was historic and record-breaking.
Smith’s single-season point total ranks second all time in the USDP U-18 team history. He passed Auston Matthews—who previously held the record with 117 points—and is only behind teammate and fellow top prospect Gabe Perreault. Over his 86 career games with the U-18 team, Smith put up 150 points which also ranks second in history, trailing only Jack Hughes.
At the biggest stage, Smith has put on an absolute show as well. The IIHF U-18 Tournament is still underway, but Smith has amassed six goals and 16 points in just five games so far. He is absolutely torching his peers at the biggest tournament for his age group.
There is no question that this level of production is fitting for a potential top-five selection, and perhaps in another season would put Smith in the conversation for first overall. Last year, the top USDP player selected was Logan Cooley by the Arizona Coyotes third overall. Just based on production, Smith blows Cooley completely out of the water. Cooley put up 1.5 points per game played in the USHL and USDP, while Smith is at 2.1 in each league. It’s just not even close.
Will Smith’s strengths
The offensive side of the game is where Smith is one of the most complete players in the draft. Any attribute of a good offensive player is one that Smith not only possesses, but excels at. He is a shoot-first player and has a strong ability to find high danger areas on the ice to shoot from. He hits the net with regularity and is always a danger to score. His shot might not even be his best offensive tool, either.
Smith’s hands are at an elite level already. You can find highlight reel after highlight reel showing off incredible stickhandling where Smith dangles through several defenders and makes them look silly. I see a lot of Johnny Gaudreau’s skill in Smith—he can stickhandle in a phone booth and get out of tight situations with ease.
His passing play is also similarly strong, able to make clean passes to his teammates. Sharing the puck was a big part of why his line was one of the best in all of junior hockey this past season, and why all three members of the line (Oliver Moore and Perreault) are rocketing up draft boards.
When it comes to the offensive side of the game, you’re getting a versatile player who can do it all. There is so much to like about Smith’s game that whoever drafts him will be giddy to add him to their organizational forward corps near the very top.
Perhaps the most impressive area of Smith’s game that scouts regularly rave about is his two-way play. Many project Smith to be a reliable two-way center in the NHL, able to put up big numbers offensively but still take care of his own zone. There are times when Smith doesn’t looks disinterested and passive in the defensive zone, but more often than not he can be relied upon.
Will Smith’s areas of improvement
Smith’s skating isn’t elite by any means, but it also isn’t terrible. Right now, it seems like Smith’s speed is average at best, and definitely an area he can improve on in the coming years. As the level of competition increases and the speed of the game increases around him, it does seem like Smith’s skating could be more and more of a limitation for him, at least at his current level.
He’s committed to Boston College in the NCAA next season, but unfortunately his drafting team will have to trust that he will be able to quickly adjust to the NCAA level.
Size and strength
Though well-sized for his age group, Smith doesn’t project to be a physical power forward. He doesn’t really engage in the physical aspects of the game and this isn’t something that he uses to generate his offence. Teams looking for a physical centreman won’t find it in Smith, but that’s not necessarily a knock on him—it’s just not his player type.
The biggest issue with Smith’s game right now is his decision making. Many scouts identify this as one of his key areas of improvement, simply because it affects his offensive game and can limit is effectiveness. Because Smith is so highly skilled, he has a tendency to try and force plays. In an effort to put on a show, Smith sometimes loses the forest for the trees and misses out on better, safer plays than the flashier and more dangerous ones he opts for. He may get a shot on goal after a nice deke, but he’ll miss a pass to an open teammate instead.
At the NCAA level, this could result in Smith being exposed and it is definitely an area he will need to clean up next season.
Will Smith’s comparables
There is debate on whether Smith projects as a center or a winger in the NHL. He makes such strong board plays that make him seem better suited for winger duties, but he’s excelled at center ice all year long. Some of the players Smith has been compared to include Kent Johnson, Trevor Zegras, and even a smaller version of Tage Thompson. All very good company for the talented American.
Fit with the Flames
If the Flames do end up winning the lottery, Smith is a player who will likely go around that sixth overall range. If so, he is absolutely an easy pick for the Flames. Without high-end offensive players in their organization’s prospect cupboard, Smith fills an immediate need.
With the versatility to play either centre or wing at the NHL level and being a right shot, Smith is a very unique player type that would be incredibly useful for the Flames in both the short- and long-term.
Smith is the full offensive package.
He can do it all up front and every time Smith steps onto the ice you know there’s a good chance he’ll be involved in a grade-A scoring chance. With elite hands and a lethal shot already, Smith should be able to put up high point totals in the NHL, despite a current weakness in skating and explosiveness. His biggest flaw is that he’s too creative; you can absolutely live with that.
Projection: Elite, offensive producer
All TWC 2023 NHL Draft Profiles
Check out more of our individual player profiles of selected 2023 NHL Draft prospects:
Connor Bedard | Matvei Michkov | Adam Fantilli | Leo Carlsson | Zach Benson | Andrew Cristall | Oliver Moore | Will Smith | Ryan Leonard | Eduard Sale | Colby Barlow | Axel Sandin Pellikka | Dalibor Dvorsky | Brayden Yager | David Reinbacher | Nate Danielson | Riley Heidt | Matthew Wood | Quentin Musty | Mikhail Gulyayev | Calum Ritchie | Gabe Perrault | Jayden Perron | Ethan Gauthier | Dmitri Simashev | Samuel Honzek | Lukas Dragicevic | William Whitelaw | Otto Stenberg | Gavin Brindley | Daniil But