Will Smith

Why scouts believe Sharks top prospect Smith is NHL-ready

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Editor's Note:Sheng Peng will be a regular contributor to NBC Sports California’s Sharks coverage. You can read more of his coverage on San Jose Hockey Now, listen to him on the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast, and follow him on Twitter at @Sheng_Peng.

Three scouts, all from outside the Sharks organization, believe that top prospect and 2023 first-round draft pick Will Smith is NHL-ready.

“I don’t see why not,” Scout No. 1 told San Jose Hockey Now. “He has nothing left to prove in college hockey.”

“Heard [Boston College is] trying hard to keep all three of those guys for one more season,” Scout No. 2 said, referring to the dynamite Smith-Ryan Leonard-Gabe Perreault trio. “Probably the best thing for Leonard and Perreault, but Smith can play in the NHL next year.”

All this leaves Smith, who led the NCAA with 71 points – as a freshman, no less – with an interesting decision.

On one hand, Boston College fell just short of a national championship last week, good reason for Smith and long-time linemates Leonard and Perreault to run it back.

On the other hand, what if the 2023 No. 4 pick is ready for a new challenge?

The reviews are in for Smith’s 25-goal and 46-assist campaign, and it doesn’t sound like he has anything left to prove with the Eagles.

“Excellent? Amazing? Hard to really put into words a 71-point NCAA freshman season," Scout No. 1 said. "Like it’s crazy what he did this year. You’re seeing that he can take over hockey games through shooting, playmaking, pace.”

“He was great,” Scout No. 2 agreed. “Really smart, high-end center prospect. Elite prospect."

“He was awesome,” Scout No. 3 said, “cheats the game a bit, but elite offense.”

Everybody agrees about the 6-foot center’s offense. Interestingly, there was a split among the scouts on his two-way game.

“Not sure he’s a top-end penalty killer or a defensive stalwart,” Scout No. 1 said, “but the offensive game is as good as it gets.”

Scout No. 2, however, is enamored with Smith’s intelligence on both sides of the puck.

“He thinks the game so well," Scout No. 2 said. "Has a lot of Logan Couture to him. He’s more two-way than Leonard, Perreault, and Cutter [Gauthier] for me. He’s smart around the ice and knows where to hold onto pucks and how to find open ice. He’s not a Selke finalist but he creates a lot of turnovers in the [neutral zone] that he makes plays from.”

“I don’t disagree,” Scout No. 3 said, “I’ve seen flashes of good D.”

So if Smith puts it together, offensively and defensively?

Whether or not he signs with the Sharks this summer, these scouts believe that stardom awaits.

Clayton Keller, anybody?

The Arizona Coyotes’ 2016 No. 7 overall pick has averaged a point per game for the last three years, piling up 98 goals and 126 assists in just 226 games.

“That’s a pretty good comp,” Scout No. 2 said.

“Keller is perfect,” Scout No. 1 said.

Even Sharks coach David Quinn agreed.

"That's a good analogy," Quinn said. "I think if Will can mimic a lot of things that Clayton does, we're going to have one hell of a player here."

Keller is a winger, where some scouts think that Smith will end up. But either way, he’s going to score.

“He’s a first-line winger or an elite 2C,” Scout No. 3 said. “Should be an 80-plus point guy.”

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