The Pittsburgh Penguins announced a surprise trade Saturday, striking a deal with an in-division team to send John Marino to the New Jersey Devils. NJ will send back Ty Smith, a 22-year-old former first-round pick in 2018 and also a third-round pick in next year’s NHL draft.
From the team:
The Pittsburgh Penguins have acquired defenseman Ty Smith and a 2023 third-round draft pick from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for defenseman John Marino, general manager Ron Hextall announced today.
Smith, 22, is signed for the 2022-23 season and has an average annual worth of $863,333.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Smith finished his sophomore 2021-22 NHL season, appearing in 66 games and recording five goals, 15 assists and 20 points while averaging 17:30 minutes on the ice per game spent. His 66 games played, five goals, 45 hits and 73 blocks were all career-bests.
Left-handed shooter Smith has played in 114 NHL competitions over two seasons in his career, recording seven goals, 36 assists and 43 points. Smith was named to the NHL’s All Rookie Team in 2020-21 after leading all rookie blueliners in assists (21), points (23) and power play points (7) that season.
Prior to his time in the NHL, Smith had more than four seasons of junior hockey with the Spokane Chiefs from 2016-20. With the Chiefs, Smith averaged 235 points (45G-90A) in 240 games and won both 2018-19 and 2019-20 the Bill Hunter Trophy, awarded to the top WHL defenseman. He has also been named a WHL (West) All-Star Team in each of his last three seasons with the club and was named the CHL’s Defender of the Year in 2018-19.
A native of Lloydminster, Alberta, Smith has represented his home country on several occasions, including winning gold medals with Team Canada at the 2020 World Junior Championships and the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Smith was originally drafted by New Jersey in the first round (17th overall) of the 2018 NHL Draft.
Taking on New Jersey’s 2023 third-round pick gives Pittsburgh nine picks in the 2023 NHL draft — one in each of the first six rounds and three in the seventh round.
The shocking part isn’t that Marino was traded, his name was listed as one of the cheapest and most sought after defenders the Pens had to offer, but that Marino was traded to a divisional opponent. And for a left-handed defender, an area where Pittsburgh is already signed for next season and has left-handed shots with Brian Dumoulin, Mike Matheson, Marcus Pettersson and Pierre-Olivier Joseph is crowded.
Pittsburgh signed Jan Rutta in free agency, who will serve as a right-footed defender with Kris Letang, Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Friedman, so the Pens still have the fortune of depth on the right side of their defense. (Although without Marino, the question of whether the depth beyond Letang is qualitative enough is certainly reasonable).
This move is clearly just another precursor for Hextall and the pens to pull out a left-firing defender.
The good news is that this frees up space on the Pens’ salary cap, as Marino’s $4.4 million cap expires for another five years and Smith only credits $863,000 against the cap, a savings of some equates to more than $3.5 million. Pittsburgh currently boasts just over $4 million in cap rank, with 12 forwards, 8 defenders, and 2 goalies on the list (CapFriendly counts Drake Caggiula against NHL cap prospects for now. I…am not) .
Perhaps the not-so-good news is that Smith is a player struggling to establish himself as a good NHL defenseman in New Jersey. As evidenced by the NJ to Pittsburgh draft pick, Marino is a better player at this point.
Ty Smith, acquired from PIT, is a young attacking defender who is good at passing the puck in the O-Zone but struggles with rush defense and often flips the puck in transition. Big slump in sophomore where he had some of the worst numbers in the league. #LetsGoPens pic.twitter.com/shYTFapFsw
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 16, 2022
But Smith is only 22 and has only played two NHL seasons — both on extremely weak New Jersey teams. We really haven’t seen him in a competitive situation with quality coaching and teammate play to know where his limit might be.
The Penguins clearly believe they can get more out of Smith in a new place and as he evolves. He didn’t have a great season in every sense of the word in 2021-22, but was skilled enough to be selected in the first round and never play a game in the AHL while rising through the Devils’ organization.
We’ll hear a lot more about Smith and the failure of that deal, but for now the Penguins have made another move that seems to raise more questions than answers and will certainly lead to more moves this summer for at least one more defender from roster being traded, to balance the team as it transitions into the 2022-23 season.