When the Calgary Flames chose Hunter Smith with the 54th overall selection in the 2nd round of the 2014 NHL Draft, it could have been seen as a stretch by Brian Burke trying to add a physical presence. Burke had infamously proclaimed he was seeking truculence, testosterone and belligerence when he was named Toronto Maple Leafs general manager, but failed to find players that had much skill.
Smith has proven many times this season, and once again on the Memorial Cup stage that he can play the physical game, but also has the important element of skill that is required in all players today.
Smith’s Ontario Hockey league career started out very slowly. In 2011-12 he played 15 games with his hometown Windsor Spitfires and recorded just one goal and no assists. The next season, he was moved to the Oshawa Generals where he played 30 games and this time scored zero goals and added just one assist.
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Smith was passed over in the 2013 NHL Draft, with 30 NHL general managers coming to the consensus that he was not even worth using a 7th round choice on.
Smith finally broke out in his second season with the Generals, showing he has plenty of skill to mix in with his 6’6”, 210 pound frame. He scored 16 goals and 24 assists for 40 points in 64 games in the regular season. Smith stepped up big time in the 2014 postseason, recording three goals and eight assists for 11 points in 12 games.
Suddenly, the hulking winger with some scoring punch was on NHL team’s radars, and one year after going undrafted, Smith was taken in the second round by the Calgary Flames, with the 54th overall selection which the Flames acquired from the Colorado Avalanche for Reto Berra.
Smith continued his upward trajectory this season on a stacked Generals squad. He set career highs in all offensive categories, scoring 23 goals, 26 assists and 49 points in 57 games. He proved invaluable in the Generals postseason run, scoring nine goals and adding nine helpers for 18 points in 21 games, which ranked fourth on the Oshawa squad, and helped propel the team to an OHL championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup.
Though Smith’s offensive numbers in the short Memorial Cup tournament are not eye-popping, he continued to play a key role on the team, using his size to cycle the puck and hold possession in the opponent’s zone for long periods of time. He played in front of the net on the power play, and had a goal waived off on a controversial high-sticking call late in the third period of the final that could have proven to be the Memorial Cup winner.
Whether Burke influenced the Flames management enough to add a huge forward in Smith at the draft table a year ago or not is still up for debate. What is not up for debate is that the Flames got more than just a huge player, they got a budding power forward who will turn pro next season and leave his mark on the Flames organization in the very near future.