Penguins’ Ty Smith Deserves an Opportunity to Prove Himself

The Pittsburgh Penguins had their work cut out for them this offseason, and they have had a busy summer preparing for the 2023-24 season. Kyle Dubas, president of hockey operations, seems to have improved the major problem areas, including the defense. One of the team’s latest moves on the defensive side of the puck was the re-signing of Ty Smith. He spent most of last season playing in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Wilkes-Barre Penguins, but come training camp he will be vying for a permanent roster spot. 

Is Smith NHL Ready?

Smith joined the Penguins last summer by way of a trade with the New Jersey Devils. However, he only played in nine games for Pittsburgh last season and had one goal and three assists. He played in 39 games at the AHL level and had seven goals and 17 assists. He was re-signed to a one-year deal worth an average annual value (AAV) of $775,000.

Another important note about Smith’s new contract is that he is no longer waivers exempt, so he should have a better opportunity to earn a roster spot. This also means if he does not make the team he will have to clear waivers before he is sent down to Wilkes-Barre. There is no doubt he has potential, but it may be difficult for him to prove himself during training camp. Most of the defensemen that beat him out for a job last season are still on the team including Pierre-Oliver Joseph who is arguably Smith’s biggest competition. 

Ty Smith
Defenseman Ty Smith holds up a trophy after his team won the 3-on-3 tournament at the New Jersey Devils annual July Development Camp. (Photo Credit: Steven Wojtowicz)

Smith is a very offensive defenseman. He is a good skater who moves the puck well in the offensive zone. His speed and passing ability automatically give him an edge over fellow defenseman Mark Friedman who will also be competing for a roster spot during training camp. Friedman has been nothing but steady for the Penguins, however, he simply can’t compete with Smith when it comes to speed and puck handling. 

Even though Smith is a better skater and passer, that still may not be enough to beat out Joseph who had a pretty solid rookie year. He played in 75 games last season and had five goals with 16 assists for a total of 21 points. Like Smith, Joseph is a more offensively-minded defenseman. Last season, he struggled at preventing zone entries and chasing down pucks in his own end. More than anything he brings experience to the table, and he has also earned the trust of head coach Mike Sullivan who is known for being fiercely loyal to his players. 

Best Man for the Job

At the end of the day, Pittsburgh’s main focus is to make it back to the postseason in 2023-24, and in order to do that they have to have the best players in place. Smith showed promise last year, however, injuries and the overabundance of blueliners prevented him from really being able to show off what he can do. His speed, good vision and overall hockey IQ make him a very viable option for the third pairing next to Jan Rutta. However, beating out Joseph for the job will be no small task. 

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Even if Smith proves he is the best man for the job during camp, will Sullivan award him with the roster spot over Joseph? In the past, the Penguins have been known to stick with what is familiar but not necessarily what is best for the team. With training camp a little over a month away and the regular season soon to follow, putting the team in the best position to win games should be everyone’s top priority.