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.
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.
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