For the first time in franchise history, the Spokane Chiefs are poised to have a player taken in the first round of the NHL Draft in consecutive years.
Smith came in at No. 14 on the NHL’s Central Scouting Final Rankings list for North American skaters. When you factor in the top-ranked draft-eligible skaters in the European leagues, Smith projects as a mid-to-late first-round selection.
Of course, it all depends on whether teams draft the best available player or the best player at the position they need. Some mock drafts have Smith going as high as ninth overall, and others have him going as late as 21st.
Smith is the top-ranked skater from the Western Hockey League. His 73 points were third on the team and second among WHL defensemen. He’s been on various mock drafts all season as a projected first-rounder, and he was constantly meeting with NHL scouts after games during the regular season.
He’s currently with Team Canada at the World Under-18 Hockey Championships in Russia. The tournament is usually crowded with NHL scouts. It’s one of the last opportunities for scouts to see prospects before the Draft Combine in Buffalo, New York, on May 27-June 2.
Smith was named the captain in Canada’s 6-4 tournament-opening victory against the United States on Thursday.
This draft is heavy on defenseman, especially those projected to go in the first round. Most mock drafts have 14 defenseman being drafted in the first round and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin of Sweden is expected to be drafted first overall.
Smith won’t be the only Chief drafted in June. Defenseman Filip Kral came in at No. 54 on Central Scouting’s North American skaters list, meaning he’s a probable third-round pick, after factoring in European skaters. Kral was the Chiefs’ Rookie of the Year after totaling nine goals and 26 assists in 54 games. Kral played for the Czech Republic at the World Junior Hockey Championships in January, scoring one goal.
Forward Eli Zummack was No. 184 on Central Scouting’s final rankings. That pegs him in as a possible late-round pick. In his second season of junior hockey, Zummack had 15 goals and 26 assists in 58 games.
A potential wild card is Hudson Elynuik, who just completed his 20-year-old season, finishing second on the team with 86 points. The Carolina Hurricanes drafted Elynuik in the third round of the 2016 draft, but Elynuik could re-enter the draft this year. Elliotte Friedman of SportsNet (Canada) reported last week that Elynuik has not signed a contract with Carolina and has until June 1 to decide.
Former Chief Brenden Kichton did that in 2013. After failing to sign with the New York Islanders, who drafted him in the fifth round in 2011, Kichton re-entered the draft and went in the seventh round to Winnipeg.
Should Elynuik opt to not sign with Carolina and re-enter the draft, the Chiefs could potentially have four players taken in one draft, the most for the franchise since 2005.
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