While Smith’s absence is of a precautionary nature according to a team spokesman, the timing of the injury and announcement is somewhat concerning. Less than two weeks remain until the Devils’ October 15 season opener against the Chicago Blackhawks at home.
The 21-year-old Smith, drafted 17th overall by the Devils in 2018, was one of the brightest spots on a team that finished seventh in the East Division with a 19-30-7 record last season. Finishing seventh in Calder Trophy voting, the rookie defenseman put up 23 points in 48 games while playing over 20 minutes a night. His offensive production combined with impressive two-way play for a rookie remains encouraging signs for Smith’s development into a bona fide top-pair ’D’ for the team.
A product of the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs, Smith’s production and role could increase considerably next season. Part of a retooled top-four that includes trade acquisition Ryan Graves and free-agent signing Dougie Hamilton, he’ll be surrounded with fortified talent on the blueline.
Those additions, along with Smith’s development and the signing of free-agent netminder Jonathan Bernier, look to propel the Devils much closer to a playoff spot. They’re all solid fixes for a team that allowed 194 goals last season, the fourth-highest in the NHL. While an injured Smith won’t help matters if he isn’t ready to go for the start of the season, an increasingly dependable defense group should be enough to serve as a competent stopgap until Smith returns to full health.