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Will Smith on Why He’s Leaving BC, Excited for Sharks’ ‘Special Future’

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Credit: Dean Tait/Hockey Shots

It would’ve been easy for Will Smith to go back to Boston College.

Two of his best friends, Ryan Leonard and Gabe Perreault, were coming back, and they formed arguably the best line outside of the NHL. The freshman also had unfinished business: The Eagles had lost the national championship game to the University of Denver last month.

Instead, the fourth-overall pick of the 2023 Draft is embracing the larger challenge – the 19-year-old is signing with the San Jose Sharks and forgoing the rest of his college eligibility.

“I think it was time to take that next step,” Smith told local media today. “Obviously, it’s the best league in the world. So you’re getting the best players every single night. That’s something that definitely factored into why I made the next step.”

It was certainly a tough decision for Smith to leave his beloved BC, where he put up 25 goals and 46 assists in just 41 games. Those 71 points led the NCAA and were the most from a U-19 college player since Jack Eichel posted that same number in 2014-15.

That said, dominating college hockey surely also made this an easier decision for Smith, who was named to Team USA’s World Championships roster after the loss to DU.

“Before I left for Worlds, I kind of made up in my mind that I was gonna sign, but I wanted to make sure I did it at the right time, and especially with my family,” Smith said.

Smith said that USA and soon-to-be Sharks teammate Luke Kunin was a great resource during the tournament that just ended in Czechia: “Just questions about games, travel, stuff like that. Just trying to get the lay of the land and the area.”

Smith went scoreless in five limited World Championships appearances, and USA bowed out in the quarterfinals to the host country and eventual champion.

So Smith made his decision before the San Jose Sharks won the No. 1 pick in the Draft Lottery on May 7, contrary to speculation that his decision to come out was tied into getting to start his pro career with surefire 2024 first-overall selection Macklin Celebrini.

Smith can see he and fellow center Celebrini being a complementary one-two punch in the future.

“Definitely,” Smith said. “He’s got some pretty sick skills that we saw on display.”

Celebrini has been compared favorably to perennial Selke Trophy finalist Jonathan Toews, while Smith is seen as more offensive-leaning.

“When [Jack] Hughes was [with] USA, and obviously now he’s with the Devils, just trying to watch his game. Obviously, he’s a super-creative player and has a really, really talented hockey IQ,” Smith said about who he models his game after.

Funny enough, it’s a defenseman that Smith is taking after, at least with the number on the back of his jersey.

He wore No. 6 at BC, but that’s only because his preferred No. 2 was taken.

The 2005-born, too young to really remember Hockey Hall of Famer Brian Leetch, told the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast last summer that BC alum Leetch was his dad’s favorite player. Many generations of Smiths have gone to Boston College.

Smith also likes the idea that No. 2 isn’t a traditional forward number.

Smith isn’t too worried about that though, instead focusing on getting bigger and stronger and faster this summer. He’s also keeping an open mind to playing in the AHL or as a winger, both possibilities now that he’s signed to the great unknown.

But he also wasn’t too worried about that details today – Smith is just excited, between he and Celebrini and Quentin Musty and William Eklund, to be part of the San Jose Sharks’ suddenly blindingly bright future.

“It’s a little bit of rebuild right now. But I think with all the draft picks, and guys who are already drafted on the team who are there now, it can be a pretty, pretty fun and special future,” he said. “Trying to get back to winning more games. The crowds and the fans there seem to be awesome, so I can’t wait.”

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