BROSSARD – Devante Smith-Pelly is having fun these days, and he’s been relishing his new role since the start of the year.
Utilized most often in a defensive role on the Canadiens’ fourth line alongside Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn, the 23-year-old admits to playing a style of hockey that he isn’t all that used to.
“I’m just getting on the puck and not necessarily going for the big hit all the time. I’m trying to get my stick in there and create turnovers. That’s something that, before I came here, I wasn’t told to do,” offered Smith-Pelly, who joined the Canadiens last February in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks. “I was always told to run guys right through the boards. I was never told to do anything else.”
The rugged forward is the first one to admit that his first few months in Montreal weren’t easy and that it took some time to adapt to his new surroundings.
“Last year was tough. Going through a trade, that’s something I’d never experienced before. It was a totally different style from team to team, so it was a pretty big adjustment,” explained Smith-Pelly, who had his fair share of critics upon arrival in La Belle Province. “I didn’t really care about it. I only care about what the guys in the room think, what coach thinks, and what Marc Bergevin thinks. Those are the only ones that really matter.”
While Smith-Pelly undoubtedly wants to improve upon his overall performance during the 2014-15 campaign, the Scarborough, ON native says he doesn’t necessarily want to put last year completely behind him.
“Every year, you want to get better and you want to improve. The same thing applies for a guy like Subban who had 60 points and Carey who was the league MVP and won all kinds of awards. I don’t see this season as a fresh start. I just want to be better than last year,” confided Smith-Pelly, who was hard at work all summer long in Toronto readying himself for his first full season with the CH. “I knew what I had to do to adjust and get better. I went home and just worked out. I worked on speed and power, as well as lower body strength. I wanted to make sure that I was gaining not only speed, but getting stronger as well.”
His efforts have paid serious dividends so far. Smith-Pelly’s line, in particular, has done a remarkable job neutralizing some of the opposition’s top players, and even chipped in on offense at times, too.
“Our speed is a big part of our success. We’re doing everything we can to make it hard for other teams to break out clean and create offensive chances. That’s how we’re being asked to play, and I think we’ve been doing a really good job. Those two other guys [Mitchell and Flynn] are really fast. If you dump it in, they’re going to get in there and make it hard for defensemen to make a clean pass,” explained Smith-Pelly, who has one assist so far this season. “We’re all a little different, but at the same time, it matches perfectly. I’m just going to go to the front of the net. If they’re looking for me, that will be the first place they’ll look. Those are two speedy guys. We’re just reading each other perfectly. We matched well together right away.”
According to Mitchell, Smith-Pelly certainly has a penchant for offense, too.
“He’s got some skills. Our responsibility this year has been to be responsible with the puck and play simple, but by no means do I think we can’t create scoring chances. He’s very capable of doing that, no question,” praised Mitchell, who scored his second goal of the season on Tuesday night against the St. Louis Blues at the Bell Centre. “He’s just reliable. He’s responsible with the puck, and he’s easy to play with. He’s in the hard areas all the time.”
While Smith-Pelly was accustomed to lighting the lamp in the Junior ranks, today he takes great pride in keeping guys off the scoresheet – a statistic that isn’t necessarily quantifiable, but one that coaches definitely appreciate.
“Anytime you’re trusted to play against the biggest line on the other team – like we did against Crosby and Malkin in Pittsburgh – it definitely gives you a boost and makes you feel good about the way you’re playing. Even after the game, when we realized they didn’t have one point all night, it makes you feel really good about your game,” concluded Smith-Pelly, who boasts a plus-2 differential in seven games early on this season. “I’m glad that we’re being trusted in those key situations, and I’m hoping that we continue to do our job well.”
Vincent Régis is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.
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