Need a blueliner? The 2018 NHL Draft will certainly be your friend.
There are eight defensemen ranked among the opening 13 picks in Future Considerations’ Winter ranking for the 2018 draft, all of which with some intriguing upside.
That includes the top two North American defensemen; Quinn Hughes of the University of Michigan and Ty Smith of the Spokane Chiefs.
Hughes is more of the slick, puck-mover who regularly winds it up and rushes the puck coast-to-coast looking to create offense for his club. Smith also has that ability, but does not utilize those skills as often as he is just as apt to make a two-zone pass as skate with the puck.
Both are seen as top-10 talents for the draft, and prospects who have the ability to alter the way the team selecting them plays for the next dozen or so seasons.
Both possess high-end sense and skill.
But how do they compare against one another?
SKATING – HUGHES
Hughes is the best skater in the 2018 draft by a wide margin. He has elite feet that back off defenders and create space for himself and his teammates consistently. When he gets those quick, fluid feet moving — which they tend to always be — he is near impossible to stop without taking a penalty. His five-star skating ability allows him to be involved all over the ice, and makes a substantial impact offensively. Smith is no slouch on his blades either. While his straight-line speed isn’t as dynamic as Hughes, his edgework and ability to corner is highly effectively. He shows heightened escapability and an aptitude to keep the opposition in front of him. Hughes, on the other hand, makes those openings because of his speed and lateral agility. The skating edge goes to Hughes.
PUCK-HANDLING – HUGHES
Hughes is always looking to create from the back end. He has the soft hands and a constant desire to drive into the oppositions end with creativity, speed and skill. He can get through traffic so quickly and effectively, like a hot knife running through butter, due to his lateral fakes, quick feet and puck control. Hughes is definitely an offensive defensemen that drives things forward and wants the puck on his stick. Smith is also a top puck-mover who can skate with the puck and handle it well. He uses his ability not only to drive the offense, but also to control and protect the puck in his own zone before breaking out. Smith has excellent spatial awareness and excels at keeping the puck just out of reach of the opposition showing a calm, assertive nature when under pressure. Hughes is just more dynamic and dangerous with the puck on his stick as he often leads the offensive rush himself.
SHOT – SMITH
An important ingredient for any offensive-minded defender is his shot, whether it be strong and/or accurate. Hughes does boast a shot that is hard and off his blade in a flash. While he is typically of a pass-first mentality, he can snipe a goal when given the time and space. However he often gives up solid opportunities to set-up his teammates instead. Smith has a strong, quick shot that he uses to pound the net. He can place it in a specific area to provide opportunities for tips and rebounds if his initial blast is stopped. Since Smith is more of a consistent shooter, this category goes to him.
PASSING – HUGHES
Hughes is not only an elite skater, but also an elite playmaker with phenomenal 360 degree vision. He displays great touch on the puck and timing with when to deliver the puck to allow his target the best possible offensive opportunity. Thanks to Smith’s vision and offensive acumen, he is always a player who is a threat to push pace from the back-end, whether it be the long, accurate pass to a streaking teammate or by making the zone entry before pulling up and saucering a short pass to a streaking forward driving the slot. Hughes has the edge as a passer as his creativity and vision trump Smith’s.
PLAY WITHOUT PUCK – SMITH
Although most of Smith’s standout qualities are displayed in his churning up ideas to burn opponents offensively, he is pretty strong defensively as well. He doesn’t play overly physical — his size will lend to that style — but he uses his compact body to every bit of its ability on his opponents body and boxing out from the net front while tying up their sticks. He keeps gaps tight and typically only takes calculated gambles. He shows confidence in any situation and an unwavering compete-level. Hughes shows a little more struggle containing opponents as he has less strength and defensive compete to his game. He does make himself available and reads when to cover for his partner, but more often than not he is needing to be covered for. This category is a little more cut and dry when comparing these two, as Hughes is a pure offensive guy while Smith is that two-way defender.
PHYSICALITY/STRENGTH – SMITH
Both of these guys are diminutive prospects playing a position where size is often a highly prized possession. Although not big, Smith has a bit of a physical element to him — a ruggedness despite his size. He is an excellent defender both off the rush and in his own end. His understated competitive drive raises his game to another level. Smith refuses to be a passenger when he is on the ice. Hughes can struggle a bit with attacking opponents due to his size. He relies on his quick feet and stick defensively but that is not always work. Smith despite being a tad undersized utilizes his smarts and compete more than Hughes to make up for any physical mismatches.
HOCKEY IQ – SMITH
Both defenders are smart and it shows in their on-ice play. Smith’s cerebral game and hockey smarts are immediately apparent when you see him play as he makes quick reads and identifies when it is best to pinch and when to hang back. Hughes is also intelligent but in a more offensive bend. He uses his smarts to see openings and calculate where he would be best to distribute or skate the puck to for setting up an offensive opportunity. His smarts are somewhat limited to one aspect in that regards. Smith has a lot of Duncan Keith to his game where he adapts to the situation and for that reason shows better all-round Hockey IQ.
So, who do you take for your team if you were drafting, and why?