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Feeling the love

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

COLUMBUS – Devante Smith-Pelly joined his new teammates less than 24 hours ago, but he’s already feeling right at home in the Canadiens’ locker room.

The 22-year-old made that abundantly clear on Thursday morning after taking part in the team’s optional skate at Nationwide Arena, where Smith-Pelly will debut for the CH against the Blue Jackets to close out their two-game road swing.

“It was a good practice. I came into the room and the guys treated me like I had been here for a while. I’m starting to get more comfortable and so far everyone’s treated me very well,” offered Smith-Pelly, who was acquired by the Canadiens on Tuesday morning from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for fellow youngster Jiri Sekac. “I’m really excited. This is the first time I’ve been nervous for a game in a long time. It’s going to be something new, but at the same time I’m looking forward to it.”

Smith-Pelly’s heightened comfort level shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the Scarborough, ON native already has plenty of friends in Montreal, including Nathan Beaulieu, Brendan Gallagher and Michael Bournival, all of whom were teammates of his with Team Canada during the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship in Calgary and Edmonton.

“Knowing guys on the team definitely helps. Coming into a new room and being able to see some faces that I already know, it helps the transition a bit. At the same time, everyone else that I’ve met has welcomed me with open arms,” praised Smith-Pelly, who will take Christian Thomas’ spot in the lineup on Thursday night. “We were all good friends. That team was really tight. We all hung out together at the same time, so we were all close. I’m excited for the chance to play with them again.”

While Michel Therrien did not confirm who Smith-Pelly would line up with, the Canadiens’ bench boss indicated that the former second-round selection would play right-wing. That’s a role that suits the four-year NHL veteran just fine.

“I pride myself on being able to play any forward position, but at the same time that’s what I’d played my whole life. It’s second nature. I don’t have to really think when I’m on the right side,” shared Smith-Pelly, who boasts 14 goals and 40 points in 129 career regular season games in Anaheim, including five goals and 17 points in 54 games during the 2014-15 campaign. “I’m willing to play anywhere I need to play, but right-wing is where I’m most comfortable.”

Smith-Pelly, who will spend a good amount of time leading up to Thursday night’s game learning the Canadiens’ systems and style of play, insists there really is more to his game than meets the eye. That’s something he’d like to showcase in the Buckeye State and beyond.

“I bring physical play. I’m a two-way forward. I think my game is pretty simple. It’s just up and down the wing. I try to finish all of my checks. Hopefully, I can maybe contribute offensively as well. I’m just looking to keep it pretty simple,” mentioned Smith-Pelly, who left Southern California leading the Ducks with 147 hits on the year. “It’s a new team, a new everything. Everything’s fresh and new to me. Hopefully, I can start off on the right foot.”

Therrien believes a change of scenery will ultimately prove beneficial for his newest pupil. After meeting with Smith-Pelly upon his arrival in Columbus on Wednesday evening, the veteran head coach thinks he will be a perfect fit in La Belle Province.

“He’ll definitely be stimulated by the fact that he’s playing in a market like Montreal. It’s like that for any player. It’s something I talked about with him,” confided Therrien. “He’ll get integrated into our group of young players. They have fun together. They enjoy competing every game and they’ve had good success. When you join a situation like that, it can be very attractive.”

Smith-Pelly is certainly in agreement there.

“Obviously, I know that it’s a hockey market in Montreal. Anaheim was great. The fans were great. But, Montreal is a whole new level. It’s going to be a lot different, but at the same time I’m looking forward to it,” concluded Smith-Pelly, who will sport No. 21 with the Canadiens. “This is my first time changing teams. Everyone has treated me amazingly so far. They’ve greeted me with open arms.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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