FlamesNation Prospect Profile: #15 Hunter Smith

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FlamesNation’s annual prospect profile project continues! Coming in at 15th on our staff rankings, mammoth right-winger Hunter Smith!

A product of the Ontario Hockey League’s Oshawa Generals, Smith was chosen in the second round of the 2014 Draft by the Calgary Flames with the pick they acquired by trading Reto Berra to Colorado. The pick raised some eyebrows due to Smith’s quiet offensive production up to that point in junior and his age – he had already gone through the 2013 Draft unclaimed.

Now that he’s about to turn pro, Smith is coming off a pretty strong 2014-15 campaign and the pick looks a little bit less like a wild home-run swing and more of a strategic move.

When thinking about Hunter Smith, I usually think back to 2014 seventh round pick Austin Carroll. Both are right wings. Both are right shots. Both are big bodies. And both are late-bloomers. Smith’s a bit bigger than Carroll and played on a better team, but they’re both similar styles of player.

Look at his career to this point, Smith has never been a big point producer.

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His draft-eligible season, he scored one point in 30 games for a 0.033 points-per-game rate – as one of the youngest players in his draft class. A year later, he jumped to a 0.625 points-per-game rate, and last season he generated 0.860 points-per-game. He’s improving, but he’s a definite notch below the elite OHL point producers.

You could argue that he has the ability to be a decent defensive player, and if you look at the OHL Championship series this past spring, you can see why: playing on a line with Bradley Latour and Canucks prospect Cole Cassels, Smith was assigned shut-down duties against Connor McDavid – hockey’s vaunted next big thing.

Through physical play, positional play, and just plain ol’ keeping McDavid out of his comfort zone, the trio were instrumental in wearing McDavid down, neutralizing him, and as a result the Generals beat the Erie Otters in five games.

Smith had the right line-mates and the right role at the right time and was very effective. He was also very effective in a similar role in the Memorial Cup tournament. Now, is it likely that those circumstances can or will easily be replicable in the American Hockey League next season? Well, probably not; the AHL players are bigger and faster than the majority of OHL players. But if you’re going to turn pro, you’d like to do it with some momentum, and playing a key part of your team winning a Memorial Cup is a pretty good way to finish off a major-junior career.

There are plenty of players that turn pro without having the kind of success that Smith had in junior. Heck, Austin Carroll is one of them. Here’s hoping that since the Flames have seen a set of circumstances that saw Smith perform well, they can find a way to somehow come close to replicating them. If they can, Smith could be really useful in the AHL next season.

QUOTABLE

The Big Rig is bound to be a fan favourite in Calgary in the coming
years. I think it remains to be seen how much offensive potential he
has, but he’s going to be a menacing force on Calgary’s 4th line at the
very least. He had a good regular season, but an outstanding playoffs
for the Memorial Cup Champion Generals this year. His ability to carry
the puck and use his size to drive the net has improved every year in
the league and outside of banging home pucks near the crease, it’s his
primary way of creating offence. His shot has never really developed and
I do think that hinders his offensive potential. But I don’t think
Flames’ fans expect him to win any Rocket Richard trophies. Smith is at
his best without the puck, wrecking havoc on the forecheck and in puck
pursuit. He’s a downright scary physical specimen who loves to engage
physically and forces a ton of turnovers because of it. I do think that
he’ll have to continue to get quicker to be an effective energy guy at
the next level, but it should come.

-Brock Otten, OHL Prospects Blog

  • redhot1

    Flames need a big hitter, not just someone who finishes his checks. Bouma always finishes his checks, and occasionally has a big hit, but the Flames need that more menacing to take a regular shift. Hoping Ferland and/or Smith can fit that.

  • Christian Roatis

    Reminds me of LA drafting Kyle Clifford. Filled a need. Not too hot on filling a bottom 6 need with a 2nd rounder but that’s a different story..

  • Parallex

    We’ll see.

    Last year at youngstars his skating was woefully inadaquate (particularily his speed and acceleration) so we’ll see if it’s improved any.

    I remain extremely skeptical of any player that has both significant size and experience advantages (along with PP time) but can’t parlay that into exceptional counting numbers in what is predominately a youth league.

  • BurningSensation

    So we have a giant whose claim to fame is making life miserable for Connor McDavid.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that might have some value.

    As for the idea a guy like this shouldn’t be picked in the 2nd, there is about a 1 in 5 chance any player from the second round plays 200 games in tHe NHL.

    At those odds taking Smith isnt such a bad bet.

    • SmellOfVictory

      To clarify his claim to fame: he and his linemates triple-teamed McDavid. In no way was Smith solely, or even primarily, responsible for holding McDavid to “only” ~1 point per game in the playoffs.

      As far as the odds discussion: the odds of all 2nd round players making the NHL are ~1 in 5, that’s true. But the fact that the Flames reached to take Smith with their 2nd doesn’t inherently give him a 1 in 5 chance. If anything he’s more likely one of the guys who brings the overall odds down.

      That said, he’s still a better bet to make the NHL than Kanzig, so I guess there’s that.

      • Cool Story, Brodie!!!

        Keeping mcdavid to averaging only 1 point per game is not a thing many people can do. Mcdavid is a god damn all star. So, I guess that’s a success somewhat.

      • BurningSensation

        A. He was part of the unit tasked with shutting down McDavid.

        B. McDavid was shutdown.

        C. His coach thought enough of his abilities to put him in the toughest assignment available. Despite his skating limitations, etc. Turns out his coach knew something others didn’t.

        D. Smith gets credit for doing well in that assignment whether you like it or not, because if he had been a tire-fire it would have surely been counted against him.

        E. Stop being auch an Eeyore.

        • SmellOfVictory

          I just prefer that things be stated as they are, that’s all. Smith did not shut down McDavid, nor was he solely tasked with doing so. I’m not saying he did nothing; I’m just saying that it’s leaving out important information to say that he “made things miserable for Connor McDavid” without further context.

  • BurningSensation

    NHL upside, but I’d be surprised if he’s ever anything more than a 4th liner + PP screen/tip specialist. His absolute upside is a Brian Bickell, and that’s optimistic as he’s a year behind Bickell developmentally.

  • ngthagg

    Sounds decent. Maybe he’s not the kind of guy that’s going to win us a championship, but he does sound like the kind of guy that will make the team be fun to cheer for. If he can go out for 10 minutes a night, turn d-zone faceoffs into neutral zone faceoffs, and make some opposing players regret stepping on the ice, I’m in favour.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Wow, kid hasn’t played a game in the NHL & AHL & his destiny already seems to be predetermined. Im just looking forward to seeing what he can translate at the AHL level. If he makes any kind of impact there, I’ll get a bit excited. Right now he’s just a #15 prospect of many hopefuls in the Flames cupboard.

  • beloch

    Smith’s line also kept Leon Draisaitl completely off the scoreboard when the Generals played the Rockets, which is fairly impressive given that Draisaitl had half a season of NHL experience and was tearing up the WHL at that point.

    I don’t know at what point Smith was put on the Generals’ shut-down line, but putting up a respectable number of points while playing that role is a very good sign. It will be interesting to see what he can do when he moves to the AHL. Hopefully he’ll still be able to contribute positively to lines tasked with neutering players like McDavid and Draisaitl in a few years once they’re in their prime. That would be tremendously useful for the Flames.

    • SmellOfVictory

      I don’t know at what point Smith was put on the Generals’ shut-down line

      I think it was around the time when they traded for Mike McCarron. McCarron took Smith’s spot on DalColle’s line and Smith moved down. Interestingly, his results with DalColle weren’t better than Smith’s.

      • beloch

        McCarron was doing really well with the London Knights before he was traded. He was scoring 1.65 ppg before the trade (up from 0.52 ppg the previous season). After the trade he scored at 0.87 ppg, while Smith averaged 0.86 ppg over the whole season.

        It looks like McCarron (a first round pick) was either really hot early last season or was just riding on his linemates in London. It might also be that the Generals play a lower scoring style of game. Smith managed a similar point pace while playing shut-down despite being a year younger.

        Long story short, it looks like Smith’s offensive output increased last season in spite of his team and deployment, rather than because of it.

        • beloch

          Smith managed a similar point pace while playing shut-down despite being a year younger.

          More like six months. Remember, Smith was picked in his second draft eligible season.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    I didn’t have Smith in my top 20, I had him as an “honorable mention.”

    The odds are stacked against him to be a regular NHL player. Not saying 100% for sure he won’t, just… the odds aren’t good.

    First off, he has a 1 in 4 maybe 1 in 5 chance as a second round pick to begin with, secondly, many junior players at his point production level don’t normally become regular impactful NHLers. Thirdly, prospects of his size have the odds stacked further against them due to skating issues.

    Now… with that being said, I still don’t think it was a terrible pick at the time. It wasn’t great, but consider it was a weak draft class… therefore we were swinging for the fences, which I don’t mind from time to time. The Flames saw his improvement year over year and took a flier that he could improve. If a guy of his size happens to work out… you have the steal of the draft. It’s kind of like buying junk bonds. High risk, high reward.