The U.S. National Team Development Program may not be the same lauded group as it was last year, producing seven first-round picks and a dozen other selections, but the top player from the program is always a name to watch. This year that is Ty Smilanic. However, Smilanic is not only known for his NHL Draft stock; he was also one of, if not the top remaining un-commited player in American junior hockey. That is no more, as Smilanic made his decision today. Jeff Cox of the New England Hockey Journal reports that Smilanic has committed to Quinnipiac University.
The 17-year-old forward out of Denver is a dynamic talent. A combination of speed and smarts fuels Smilanic’s dangerous two-way game. At 6’1” but only 170 pounds, he still has room to bulk up and become even more of a threat at both ends. Smilanic has proven at each level of the developmental stage to have superior skating ability and a nose for the net, while also growing in his defensive awareness. So far this season with the USNTDP, Smilanic has rebounded from missing some time early on to record ten points in 13 games. While he may not catch Michigan-bound teammate Thomas Bordeleau for the team lead in scoring this year, he is a safe bet to finish second. And many scouts like him as the first player to be drafted from the team as well, ahead of Bordeleau and several other talented prospects. Most draft rankings have Smilanic going in the back half of the first round in June, but others like his chances at pushing toward the top ten. As he gets his legs under him this season, he could continue to take strides in his development and enter the conversation as a top pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
This is no small deal for Quinnipiac. While the team has grown into a national contender over recent years, it has not been because they had the best players, but instead the right players who have bought in to head coach Rand Pecknold’s system. Sure, the program has produced NHLers like Devon Toews, Connor Clifton, and Matthew Peca in recent years and had two high-profile graduates in Chase Priskie (CAR) and Andrew Shortridge (SJS) last season, but those players were not considered surefire pro talents before their collegiate careers began. Smilanic is a different story. He is easily the top recruit in program a history and has surely left several other NCAA programs disappointed today.