Will Smith is one of the offensive engines of the American team at the World Under-18
MISE À DAY
Before knowing his fate in the repechage, Will Smith earns points with a sparkling participation in the Under-18 World Championship in Switzerland.
As of Thursday, the center was the top scorer at this tournament with 16 points (6 goals, 10 assists) in just five games. He found himself at the top with his two linemates, Gabriel Perreault, Yanic's son, and Ryan Leonard.
Perreault also had 16 points (5 goals, 11 assists), while Leonard had 14 points (7 goals, 7 assists). All three players will become first-round picks in June in Nashville. Smith and Leonard should logically hear their names among the top ten, while Perreault shouldn't wait much longer.
“It's special, there's a strong bond between us,” he said. We have played well all year as part of the same line. But I have the feeling that we have reached another level at the U18. Gabe [Perreault] has a great vision for the game, he always watches to know where we are on the ice. I can also spot Lenny [Leonard]. He is the strongest player I know. He also creates space for his teammates and he has a blistering shot.”
“It's a perfect marriage, he continued. I consider myself a playmaker, but also a scorer. My wingers also have the same ability. As a trio, we are threatening everywhere.”
Gold as a goal
In the quarterfinals on Thursday, the United States beat the Czech Republic 4-1. Smith scored the first goal of the game and Leonard the second.
“When we came to this tournament, our goal was to come away with the gold medal,” Smith said. We're taking it one game at a time, one step at a time. But it's possible to get there.”
In Saturday's semi-finals in Basel, Switzerland, the United States will meet Slovakia, while Canada will play Sweden.
Scores by the ton
Described as an electrifying center by NHL scouts and a player who can break a defenseman's ankle with his quick feints, Smith rolled at a hellish pace all year round.
With the United States Under-18 program, the right-hander had 123 points (48 goals, 75 assists) in 58 games. Auston Matthews (117) and Jack Hughes (116), top two in the NHL Draft, scored fewer points at the same age. He does not, however, inflame with this reality.
“Yes, it's cool when I see paintings on social networks, there are big names who have worn the colors of the program American in recent seasons. I loved watching Matthews, Hughes and Caufield with Team USA and I watch them today in the NHL. It's special, but it's still just statistics. I still have a lot to prove.”
Boston College next year
When asked to describe his strengths, Smith responds along the same lines as scouts.
“My sense of the game [hockey IQ] and my unpredictability . I force my rivals to make mistakes. They tend to think I'm going one way, but I go the other direction. I also have nimble hands, I can outsmart rivals and make defensemen look bad.”
In theory, Smith will continue his apprenticeship next year at Boston College.
“I have family who studied there,” he said. My sister will be finishing her degree next year in biology at BC. So it was a logical choice for me.”
Will Smith explained his attachment for the number two.
“I get this question often. But in my youth, I chose this number because of Brian Leetch. I know he was a defender. I took that number for him. I've kept 2 this whole time. I have no intention of changing it, I've worn that number for so many seasons. Next year, at Boston College, there is already a player with the two.
After a quick check, it is defenseman Eamon Powell who has this vest. If he were to end up in Montreal one day, Smith would also have to mourn this number normally attributed to a defender. Doug Harvey's deuce is on the ceiling of the Bell Centre. And Cole Caufield dons jersey number 22.
“There is no hockey player in my family,” Smith said. It's a strange story. A friend of my father's dropped off a hockey jersey and invited me to play. My love for this sport starts from there. I played baseball when I was younger. I was a good player. I was throwing or I ended up at shortstop. If I had pushed into the sport, I bet I would have had a chance at a career.”
Teammate with Lane Hutson's little brother
At the World Under-18, Smith shares the same locker room as Cole Hutson, the little brother of Lane, a second round choice of the CH in 2022. Like Lane, Cole is also a defender offensive. He will be eligible for the 2024 NHL Draft.
“I know Lane and Cole. They are two good guys. They have unique talents. Cole has Lane up his nose. He plays in a similar way, he is also very offensive. Cole will become another good defender.”