MONTREAL – NHL trade season has arrived in Montreal.
That became clear on Tuesday morning, when Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin announced the acquisition of forward Devante Smith-Pelly from the Anaheim Ducks in return for forward Jiri Sekac, adding some size up front in time for the annual postseason push.
“You look at our needs and I think he fits what we’re looking for moving forward. He’s a big body with a right shot who goes to the hard areas and to the net,” explained Bergevin during a media availability at the Scottrade Center in St-Louis where the Habs meet the Blues on Tuesday night. “We’re giving up a really good young hockey player too, so there’s a price to pay to get what we want. That was the case for Jiri this time and we wish him the best. Time will tell [whether this deal pays off], but we’ll see where we’re at moving forward.”
Although Smith-Pelly’s exact spot in the lineup will ultimately be left for head coach Michel Therrien to decide, the six-foot, 222-pound right winger insists he'll be easy to please when he joins the team in Columbus on Wednesday.
“I’m willing to play where I’m needed. I don’t know how the lines are set up yet, but wherever the coaching staff wants me to play – I feel like I can step in and make a contribution,” confided the Canadiens’ new number 21, whose 147 hits place him second behind just Alexei Emelin in Montreal after previously leading Anaheim in that category. “The style I play is most successful when I’m moving my feet and finishing all my checks. That’s what I hope to bring to the lineup, to hopefully use my body and chip in offensively as well.”
The former 42nd overall pick from the 2010 NHL Draft has done a good job of that so far, ranking eighth among right wingers from his draft class with 40 points in 129 career games to date. Last spring, he also found the back of the net five times over 12 games in two postseason series against Dallas and Los Angeles, accounting for 26.3% of his career haul.
“Everyone loves to play in the playoffs. Everyone loves to play in big games. Playing in the Memorial Cup in Junior was huge for me and I guess that translated to my big games in the pros,” acknowledged the former Mississauga St. Michael's Major who recorded six points over five games during the 2011 edition of the junior event. “I always like to step up my game when it matters most. That’s something I pride myself on and enjoy doing.”
Fortunately for Smith-Pelly, the fourth-year NHLer will have every opportunity to show off his postseason prowess once again, arriving on an East-leading Montreal team from one of the West’s best with just over 20 games left on the 2014-15 schedule.
“Going from one playoff team to another is good for me. I’ll just carry over the intensity that I was playing with in Anaheim to Montreal and continue playing strong for the final stretch of the season,” underlined the Toronto native, who has registered 17 points in 54 games this season. “That definitely makes the transition easier and I’m thankful for that.”
The former Ducks’ leading shot blocker will also be able to count on some familiar faces as he eases into his new role in Montreal, having played with Michael Bournival, Brendan Gallagher, and Nathan Beaulieu at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship, not to mention Christian Thomas, who he played against in Toronto Midget AAA and later in the OHL.
“I talked to a couple of the guys – I spoke with Nate and Christian – but they’re playing tonight so we didn’t get into it too much,” added the former 2012 WJC bronze medal winner who returns home to Canada following four seasons south of the border. “Obviously I know what Montreal is all about hockey-wise. A hockey market doesn’t get much better than that. That’s something I’m familiar with being from Toronto. I know it can get pretty nuts there but I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited.”
Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com