When it comes to defencemen in the 2018 draft, we can throw out Rasmus Dahlin. We know he’s already going to Buffalo. So when we’re ranking the defencemen, you might as well just look at everyone beyond him. Today I got what will likely be a polarizing opinion. Will I change minds? I doubt it. But it’s just my POV on two players who are in reverse order for pretty much every other ranking but my own. I don’t do this for attention or anything along those lines, it’s my honest opinion. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. There’ll be a ton of shit that we’re all wrong about once the dust settles on this draft in 10 years or so. And this isn’t to suggest I hate one guy and love the other. In fact with today’s players, I really like both guys! But one has to be ahead of the other.
Team: Michigan League: NCAA
Pos: LD Ht: 5’9 Wt: 168 Shot: L
2018 Stats – GP: 37 G: 5 A: 24 P: 29
Comparison: Phil Housley
Soups on Hockey Rank: 13 (3rd tier)
Team: Spokane League: WHL
Pos: RD Ht: 5’11 Wt: 176 Shot: L
2018 Stats – GP: 69 G: 14 A: 59 P: 73
Comparison: Brian Rafalski
Soups on Hockey Rank: 12 (3rd tier)
Its funny that I’m about to write what I’m going to write. In 2010, my nephews played with Ty. Can’t recall if that was the first season they did or not, but if it wasn’t, then it was when Ty really started to stand out. He drove me NUTS watching him, because he was so talented…but he pretty literally NEVER passed the puck!! I remember thinking “this kid is so good but he’s not going ANYWHERE until he starts passing the puck”. Mother f***er, did he ever learn to pass the puck…
But I’ll get back to Smith in a bit.
Quinn Hughes. Where I believe everyone is making the mistake on Hughes is how they’re quick to point out that no matter where he is (Michigan, the WJC, the World Championships), he hasn’t changed his game, and he’s looked comfortable. To me, they’re looking at it wrong. They’re right in believing people need to accept with Hughes that he’s not going to be an all situations guy, even if his defensive play is fine. However, what they need to be asking is if his offensive play is so elite that it makes his defensive play irrelevant?
Something I read recently, and I’m paraphrasing here, but it was along the lines of “he’s awful in his own zone, but he always has the puck on his stick”. Ok, but that’s not going to be the case in the NHL. To me, that means a coach is going to really have to shelter him. Hughes is going to have to be one of the most elite offensive players in the game, not just among defencemen, with how he plays. Is he THAT guy? That’s a very difficult ask. He’s great, he’s electric, I’m not sure he’s THAT.
Something else I’m seeing people quickly point to with Hughes is how he held his own at the World Championships. And by no means am I saying its nothing, it is something. But the last draft eligible defenceman I recall playing for Canada or the U.S. was Ryan Murray in 2012. Like Hughes, Murray was a late birthday in his draft year, and like Hughes, Murray held his own and looked fine. In the case of both, their games are much better suited for the big ice. So its not as though I’m intending to piss on it, but I am warning people to perhaps pump the brakes on an ok showing at the Worlds.
On top of that, I don’t see it as overly difficult to find a poor man’s version of what Hughes is. This isn’t really speaking to which player is better as much as it is a kids “draft stock”, but I do believe it should be noted. Every team in the top 10 (with the exception of Arizona because they don’t have an early 2nd rounder) might be able to land Calen Addison, Johnny Tychonik, or Ryan Merkley in the late 1st/early 2nd round, and would anyone be surprised if any of those three are near what Hughes will become? Obviously we all believe Hughes is much more of a sure thing, but all three of those kids have very similar ceilings to Hughes. Now ask yourself this: who is the poor man’s Smith in this draft that you’ll be able to find late 1st/early 2nd round? Someone might become that, but none currently show that kind of ability.
Smith doesn’t play with the flash that Hughes does, but he plays a much more cerebral game than Hughes does. And he is already very solid in his own zone. You’re talking about a kid who is the WHL scholastic player of the year this season. As someone who knows Smith very well told me “he’s a genius”. So you got a PPG D-man who is a great skater, solid in his own zone, and has a very high IQ. Something else for me that I can speak to with Smith is that I know he is an extremely humble, hard working, and coachable kid. I’m not huge on intangibles, but he does have all the intangibles you crave in a player to go with that talent (he’s often wore the “C” on his teams). To me, that means he’s will always be looking to improve his game, and he’s only going to grow at both ends of the rink.
I believe Hughes has some of these qualities too, but in reading into his interviews and the reports on his personality, he does seem strong willed. If that’s the case (and again, I don’t know that it is), it’ll help him play and stick in the league and be a damn good player. But I’m not sure I can trust that guy to evolve. Think of a shoot first point guard in the NBA. A lot of those guys are alpha’s, and extremely strong willed (Allen Iverson, Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury, Russell Westbrook), but they either didn’t or haven’t (in the case of Westbrook) evolved their game to a style that’s needed to be successful. Great careers, and the strong will/belief in themselves is what made those great careers, but they couldn’t adapt and I wonder if Hughes has a bit of this in him? Again, don’t know that, can’t stress that enough, but I wonder.
As you would have read in the tale of the tape on both guys, I use Phil Housley as my comparison for Hughes, but I personally see him production wise as more of a Tyson Barrie. Where with Smith, I compare him to Brian Rafalski and do see the same kind of production as Rafalski. So if you believe Hughes will be around the same level of player as Barrie, and Smith will be around the same level of player as Rafalski, its a simple question of which player would you rather have? Rafalski played tougher minutes, was much better in his own zone, and still put up damn good numbers year to year (especially when you consider that from 2000-2004 he was playing in the dead puck era for the kings of dead puck hockey the New Jersey Devils). Barrie put up 0.84 PPG, good for 2nd in the league this past season. That’s awesome! But I’ll take the slightly less offensive production for a guy who you can throw on the ice in any situation.
Again, I’m begging you to not get this twisted. I’m a big fan of Quinn Hughes despite having him lower than most do on my list. Love his game. As an Oilers fan, if he’s there at 10, I’d be very happy to get him. And we’re really splitting hairs for the most part here. Skating, could argue it either way. Passing, could argue it either way. Hughes becomes the offensive threat some believe he can be, then perhaps I’m singing a different tune. And yes, I fully admit I have a bias towards Smith having watched the kid since he was in Atoms. But I’m not sure if its as much of a bias as its knowing what the kid is all about. In the first few seasons of their career’s I can easily see Hughes being the more effective player. The problem with that is you shouldn’t be drafting a kid to be better for the next two or three years, you should be drafting a kid whom you believe will be the better player throughout their career. I also wonder with some if they don’t simply fall in love with the more exciting player rather than who can be the better player? Hughes can bring people out of their seat, Smith won’t. As a fan, I know what I’m more drawn to. But if I’m evaluating a player, it shouldn’t mean much.
I was so pumped to do these pieces this season, but they’ve frankly sucked to do. Why? Because to make the case for one guy you have to essentially shit on the other. Both are awesome! If I had to go with one though, I prefer Smith. I just believe the kid has the makings of a legitimate number one defenceman, and that’s so difficult to find.
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