Last year, OHL winger Kyle Clifford surprised a lot of people when he went off the board at the NHL draft 35th overall to the Los Angeles Kings despite not being invited to the draft combine.
This year, one player who has been compared to bit to Clifford in terms of his overall gritty game and under-the-radar rise is Ottawa 67's left winger Dalton Smith (although Central seems to have recognized Smith's potential, because he is in Toronto at the combine this week).
Not a great skater, his top-end speed is just average and his get-up-and-go needs work. However, he's a tremendous competitor who finishes his checks, outworks opponents along the boards and down low, and demonstrates soft hands and a finishing touch. He'll also drop the gloves and is considered to be a pretty tough customer (albeit a fighter in the middleweight class at 6-1, 195) by the scouts I've talked to.
Overshadowed by some higher-profile teammates (at least among Central scouting and internet message boards) like Tyler Toffoli and Ryan Martindale (scouts I've spoken to are not big fans of either), Smith scored 21 goals and 44 points in 62 games for the 67's this season, adding 129 minutes in the box. This was his first full season in the OHL after spending 17 games with the club in 2008-09 (he split between Ottawa and the OJHL's Whitby Fury) as a fourth-liner.
Smith worked himself up to the top line this season, and while he doesn't have the kind of scoring upside in the pros that would see him land in the first round, he looks like another solid second-rounder.
Red Line Report likes him a lot, and put them in their "underrated" section for the OHL (along with Jr. B defender Julian Melchiori whom I also like as a potential Bruins pick. Jeff Skinner, Christian Thomas, Ryan Spooner and Swiss winger Alain Berger were also listed) in their April bulletin, saying: Hard-working grinder has a bit of talent, enough to see him land on the 67's first line and a key component in their second-half resurgence. His skating needs work, but we view him as kind of a poor man's Kyle Clifford.
Back in January, they had Smith listed as their 14-best OHL player, but you can expect that given his strong performance to close out the season and in the playoffs, he'd probably be inside the top, moving ahead of Devante Smith-Pelly, John McFarland, Brock Beukeboom and Brandon Archibald if one had to guess.
Smith isn't a bad player to tab at the 45th selection if he's on the board (and let's say for example Justin Shugg is not), but in the end, it all comes down to where a team views a player like Smith and whether they think he's capable of chipping in around 20 goals or so at the highest level, but bringing that kind of toughness and drive teams recognize that you win with. He's not the kind of ferocious winger whose toughness and goal scoring skill can change the face of a game on a single shift like Milan Lucic did in junior, nor is he as tough as Shawn Thornton, but he's close.
The skating and lack of pure upside will drop him, but Smith is one of those guys who just screams Bruins archetype pick to me, so he's definitely one to watch. And, he scored just seven fewer goals than Clifford did for Barrie. If Clifford can go 35, then Smith will probably go somewhere in the same vicinity.
Watch where he goes in L.A., and don't be at all surprised if it happens to be sooner rather than later.