When the Capitals acquired Devante Smith-Pelly last summer, many weren’t sure if he would make the Opening Night roster. Coming on the heels of Marcus Johansson’s trade to the New Jersey Devils, the Capitals signed Smith-Pelly to a one-year, two-way contract. Much like what happened with Brett Connolly, the previous season, the Capitals hoped to have him become a reclamation project, if he could just make the Opening Night roster.
“I wasn’t sure on him (at first), to be honest with you just because of not seeing him enough and not knowing him. I knew there was something there but to be honest with you, I wasn’t a big fan,” Trotz admitted in an interview with Isabelle Khurshudyan of The Washington Post.
Smith-Pelly had a career high 14 goals, 11 assists for 25 points in 64 games played during the 2015-16 season, but his numbers had dipped the following season with just nine points (four goals, five assists). Coming to an offensively-loaded team like the Capitals, Smith-Pelly’s numbers and production were bound to increase.
Smith-Pelly was bought-out by the Devils and the Capitals signed him at the NHL minimum of $650,000 on the two-way deal. In hindsight, that acquisition may have looked small at the time, but DSP might’ve been the best player the Caps picked up at a bargain of a price.
This season, Smith-Pelly has spent time on all four lines, and wherever he has been placed, he’s made an impact. Smith-Pelly tallied three assists in his first 10 games with the Capitals before finally breaking through for his first goal of the season in a Capitals win over the Oilers in late October. That goal came when he was placed on the second-line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
“As you got to know him and you got to see what he can do, I’m a fan,” Trotz would later add.
Smith-Pelly notched a goal later during a thrilling Capitals overtime win over Carolina in the beginning of the 2018 calendar year and currently has six goals on the season, two more than he had last season. In that game, Smith-Pelly was placed on the top-line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
Later in the week during practice, Smith-Pelly was moved down to the third-line as Trotz placed T.J. Oshie on the top-line for their game with the St. Louis Blues last Sunday. However, the Capitals faced a 2-1 hole and weren’t playing their best. Trotz then placed Oshie on the third-line and moved Smith-Pelly to the top-line which ignited a comeback and led to another overtime win.
Two nights later in a contest with the Canucks, Smith-Pelly made his presence known by sticking up for veteran Brooks Orpik. This came early in the third period when Orpik forced a turnover from Thomas Vanek and came down the ice with the puck on a breakaway. Canucks defensemen Ben Hutton laid out a hit on Orpik after he shot the puck. Smith-Pelly was skating right by and immediately jumped to action. Smith-Pelly and Hutton dropped the gloves and DSP threw some punches and received a 10-minute misconduct. Even though Smith-Pelly was watching most of the period from the sin bin, many people from the fans, to the media believed that fight helped bring the team together.
“Teams come together when you gotta stick up for each other… That’s a great visual of not only your team but the guy next to you who sees Devo jumping in,” Trotz told the Sports Junkies on the radio the next morning.
With 13 points on the season, Smith-Pelly needs just 12 to tie his career-high that he set in the 2015-16 season. Playing on a top-line with Backstrom and Ovechkin, he could be well on his way to setting a new career high.
By Michael Marzzacco