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Chiefs’ Ty Smith named Western Conference’s top defenseman

UPDATED: Tue., April 21, 2020

Spokane Chiefs forward Ty Smith (24) and Vancouver Giants forward Kaden Kohle (17) elbow each other during the first period of a WHL hockey game on Jan. 10, 2020, in the Spokane Arena. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Chiefs forward Ty Smith (24) and Vancouver Giants forward Kaden Kohle (17) elbow each other during the first period of a WHL hockey game on Jan. 10, 2020, in the Spokane Arena. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

Ty Smith earned another Western Hockey League accolade Monday, when the Spokane Chiefs’ captain was named the best defenseman among the Western Conference’s 10 teams.

Smith, coming off his 19-year-old season, is one of two finalists for the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy given annually to the league’s top defenseman. Calen Addison of the Eastern Conference’s Lethbridge Hurricanes is the other.

The award will be announced May 19.

Smith won the Bill Hunter Trophy last year and then was named the best defenseman in the Canadian Hockey League, which encompasses all three of the country’s junior hockey leagues. No player has been named CHL Defenseman of the Year twice in its 32-year history.

The last player to earn the Bill Hunter Trophy in back-to-back years was Medicine Hat’s Kris Russell (2006 and 2007), who also won the CHL honor in 2007.

Smith played 46 of a possible 64 games in the shortened WHL season and finished with 19 goals and 40 assists. In his last 25 games, Smith recorded 42 points, including eight on Feb. 28 against Seattle, a team single-game record for a defenseman.

“Unfortunately Smitty didn’t have a chance to continue his play into the playoffs, because he was absolutely outstanding, and obviously the league recognized how good he was,” Chiefs assistant coach Adam Maglio said, referring to the cancellation of the WHL playoffs due to COVID-19. “Certainly at the end of the year he was absolutely at his best, for sure.”

Smith’s plus-49 was the second best for a WHL defenseman this season, behind Chiefs teammate Noah King’s plus-60. Smith’s 59 points ranked third among Western Conference defensemen, trailing Everett’s Wyatte Wylie (64) and Portland’s Johnny Ludvig (62).

But those two played nearly the whole regular season, and Smith’s rate of 1.28 points per game outpaced all other WHL backliners except Everett’s Jake Christiansen, who had 22 goals and 28 assists in 38 games.

“It makes it pretty special knowing there’s so many great defensemen in the Western Conference,” Smith said from his home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Addison, a Pittsburgh Penguins’ draft pick, recorded 52 points in 50 games this season. He and Smith won gold medals with Team Canada at the World Juniors in January.

Smith is eligible to play next year in either the National Hockey League with the New Jersey Devils – the team that selected him in the first round of the 2018 NHL draft – or with their American Hockey League affiliate, the Binghamton (New York) Devils.

He would also be able to return to the Chiefs as one of their overage 20-year-olds, though that is unlikely.

“I certainly think Ty’s more than ready for that opportunity,” Maglio said of the NHL or AHL. “We’re gonna have some big holes to fill back there, but we’re excited about our young group of prospects and D we had on our team.”

Two of Spokane’s three 20-year-olds on the year-end roster were defensemen, and both have signed contracts to play professionally next season.

Filip Kral, a fifth-round NHL draft selection by Toronto, signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 1. King signed a one-year contract with the AHL’s Stockton Heat, the Calgary Flames’ affiliate, last Tuesday.

On April 7, Smith and teammate Adam Beckman were two of six players named to the Western Conference’s All-Star first team.

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