The Spokane Chiefs like to emphasize the importance of development, opportunity and advancement.
Basically, it is good to be a coach’s stepping-stone job, and it is good to see former players make a smooth, successful transition to the pros. Both are signs of a healthy, successful franchise.
Their last two head coaches – Dan Lambert and Manny Viveiros – had short stints in Spokane before moving on to coaching opportunities in the NHL and American Hockey League, respectively.
Now they are seeing the next steps in the development of a couple of more former players – 2018-19 Chiefs co-captains Ty Smith and Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who are both off to strong starts as rookies in the National Hockey League this season.
“I have watched some of Ty’s games. I think he’s just more ready, he’s more mature, more physically and more emotionally mature,” Spokane general manager Scott Carter said. “He’s done a great job from what I’ve seen. It doesn’t look like the (New Jersey) Devils are putting a lot of pressure (on him).”
Smith, a first-round pick by the Devils in 2018, had started all nine games for New Jersey as of Monday and has two goals and six assists, the best points-per-game rate among all NHL rookies. On Tuesday, the Devils played their first game since Jan. 31 after a two-week layoff due to COVID-19 cases on the team.
Smith played the past four seasons in Spokane and was named the Western Hockey League’s top defenseman after the 2018-19 season. In 240 career regular-season games with the Chiefs, he scored 45 goals and had 190 assists, the fourth most in franchise history.
He also won a gold medal at the 2020 World Juniors with Canada.
All that success has translated well to the NHL, where he has again adjusted well to the speed of the sport, something that increases with every promotion.
“He’s just moving the puck a little quicker, understanding the pro game is faster, and at the Western Hockey League level he was probably able to hang on to the puck a little bit longer,” Carter said. “At that level, you don’t have time and space.”
The team’s recent pause in activities due to COVID-19 – Smith tested positive and said he had started feeling better on the third or fourth day of his sickness – presents the team with a challenge in getting back up to speed after such a long layoff, Smith said.
“I think getting the timing back is always something people talk about, and that’s something you definitely need to do,” Smith told reporters before the Devils’ game on Tuesday. “But the anticipation, or I guess the hope, isn’t to need a few games: It’s to get right back into it first game back.”
Anderson-Dolan, a Kings second-round selection in 2017, started the season on the Los Angeles taxi squad, but on Feb. 5 he made his season debut and had three points in his first four games as of Monday. On Thursday, he scored a goal and assisted on another, Anderson-Dolan’s first multipoint game in the NHL.
Before the season began, in early January, Anderson-Dolan said since his first NHL game on Oct. 7, 2018, he has improved at the details of the game, and his time with the Ontario (California) Reign in the AHL gave him more experience killing penalties and taking faceoffs in high-leverage situations at the pro level.
Those were skills he honed during his four years in Spokane, where he played 244 regular-season games, scored 113 goals and assisted on another 123. That gives him 236 points – one more than Smith, though he did play four more games than the defenseman did.
“You mature as a player and a person, obviously, in two years,” Anderson-Dolan told reporters in January. “That’s quite a big difference.”
The center certainly made an impact on some current Chiefs players like Jack Finley, another who played parts of two seasons with Anderson-Dolan and called him a mentor.
“I played with him when I was 16, I roomed with him on the road,” Finley said last week. “I love the way he played, how he worked so hard and plays a great 200-foot game.
“I was really close with (Anderson-Dolan) and the same with (Smith). I’ve seen how hard those guys work and how professional they are, so to see it finally pay off is really cool.”
Smith and Anderson-Dolan boost the number of former Chiefs in the NHL to six, including Jared Spurgeon (Minnesota Wild) and a trio of Spokane natives: Tyler Johnson (Tampa Bay Lightning), Derek Ryan (Calgary Flames) and Kailer Yamamoto (Edmonton Oilers).
Spurgeon, named Wild captain before the season, had two assists through 11 games before Tuesday, when Minnesota resumed games after a COVID-19 pause.
On Friday, Johnson scored twice in a game for the first time this season. The 30-year-old forward has seven points – four goals and three assists – in 13 games and is a plus-2.
Yamamoto, 22, has five goals and four assists in 17 games with Edmonton.
Ryan, 34, broke a finger on Feb. 4 and was placed on injured reserve. Through 10 games with the Flames, he has one assist . He could be back in early March.
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