Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Washington Capitals 2017-2018 Previews -- Forwards: Devante Smith-Pelly

Devante Smith-Pelly

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.”
-- Seneca

New beginnings and beginning’s end appear to be habit with Devante Smith-Pelly.  It happens to many NHL’ers.  In Smith-Pelly’s case, he will be donning the jersey of his fourth NHL team in seven NHL seasons, having had previous stops in Anaheim (second round draft pick and three-plus seasons), Montreal (parts of two seasons), and New Jersey (one full season and change).

It is a lot of traveling for a player who has been on the margin of holding a consistent spot in an NHL lineup.  In those six seasons, Smith-Pelly has appeared in 266 games, and only in the last three of them has he appeared in more than 50 games. 

He has not left a large footprint in his six NHL seasons, posting 33 goals and 77 points in those 266 games.  But some folks do see something more in him.  In fact, one person of particular importance and relevance to the matter thinks, “there’s some untapped potential.”   If one looks at the full arc of his development, one can see the possibilities.  In three years of Canadian juniors, Smith-Pelly put up increasing goal totals, from 13 in 57 games as a 16-year old with the Mississauga St. Michael Majors to 29 goals in 60 games the following year (the season preceding his being drafted) to 36 goals in 67 games in his last year of juniors.  He experienced similar improvements with the Norfolk Admirals in his two AHL seasons, scoring 14 goals in 60 games in his first season with the club and 27 goals in 55 games the following season as a 21 year old.

Odd Smith-Pelly Fact…  Oddly enough, Devante Smith-Pelly’s most productive seasons were those in which he dressed for two different teams.  In 2014-2015 he was 6-14-20 in 74 games split between Anaheim and Montreal), while in 2015-2016 he was 14-11-25 in 64 games split between Montreal and New Jersey.

Fearless’ Take…

One thing that has not seemed to intimidate Smith-Pelly in his young career is going on the road.  He has roughly equivalent numbers (on a per game basis) on the road (17-23-40 in 139 games) as he does at home (16-21-37 in 127 games).

Cheerless’ Take…

Just sayin’, but in nine career games against the Penguins, he is 0-1-1, minus-9.  That plus-minus is the worst he has against any team in the league, save one…the team he’s playing for (minus-10 in 12 games against the Caps).  He is also a minus-24 in 61 career games against Metropolitan Division teams, minus-5 against the rest of the league in 205 career games.  Sure, a lot of that was skating with a weak New Jersey team, but the number is the number.  It did not help that he had the third worst shot attempts-for (SAT) percentage with the Devils last season (40.90 percent) and the seventh-worst of 351 NHL forwards skating in at least 50 games.  And there is that postseason thing, too.  Smith-Pelly was 5-0-5, minus-1 in his first ten career playoff games.  In his last 14 postseason games he is 1-2-3, minus-4.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2017-2018:
  • 300 games (currently has 266)
  • 100 points (currently has 77)
  • 100 penalty minutes (currently has 84)
  • 10 game-winning goals (currently has seven)
  • Points against all 31 teams (currently has points against every team except: Detroit, New Jersey, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Las Vegas)

The Big Question… Is Devante Smith-Pelly an economical bottom-six forward solution?

Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson are gone.  This could open up top-six forward spots for Andre Burakovsky, Tom Wilson, or Brett Connolly.   When you couple that with the contracts that were finalized this summer, that means the Caps will have to fill in their bottom six spots with economical (read, “cheap”) alternatives, either from within or with new signings.  Smith-Pelly has the advantage of almost 300 regular and postseason  games of NHL experience.  At $650,000 on a one-year deal, he is about as economical as it gets for an NHL player with that experience level and comparable to the rookies with whom he is likely to compete (Riley Barber, Chandler Stephenson, and Nathan Walker among them).  If Smith-Pelly does have the untapped potential the General Manager Brian MacLellan seems to think he has, then he would be a bargain.  If not, his is a low-risk signing. 

In the end…

That he has not seen an arc of improvement in the NHL similar to that he experienced in juniors and the AHL does not foreclose the possibility the Devante Smith-Pelly is doomed to a lackluster NHL career.  He just turned 25 years of age in June.  But time continues to pass, too, and there is not a lot of time to establish himself as a player worthy of a sweater night in and night out.  The departures the Caps experienced in this past off-season provide a unique opportunity for players like Smith-Pelly, who have some spotty experience but are still young enough to grow into a responsible role on a team with more than a few remaining veterans.  He is likely to compete for a bottom-six spot on this roster, and in that competition his experience could put him a step ahead of those with whom he is competing.

Projection: 52 games, 6-5-11, plus-2

Photo: Steven Ryan/Getty Images North America