Special to AnaheimDucks.com
MISSISSAUGA, Ontario – For someone who sees himself as a power forward whose defensive skills will be his ticket to playing in the NHL, Ducks prospect Devante Smith-Pelly
sure knows how to fill up a score sheet.
In fact, based on his performance so far at junior hockey’s premier tournament – the Memorial Cup – he seems to have a knack for collecting a large proportion of those goals and assists at the most vital times.
After notching a team-high 21 points in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) playoffs for his Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors – including a league-best 15 goals – Anaheim’s second-round pick in 2010 is tied for the scoring lead so far at the Memorial Cup.
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Smith-Pelly has one goal and three assists in two games for the Majors, who are the host team for the event that features the top four teams in junior hockey.
“I’m not the kind of guy who’s looking to put up a whole bunch of points – or the type of guy who’s looked at to put up a whole bunch of points – but I don’t know," said the modest native of Scarborough, Ontario, who will turn 19 next month. "I think that’s just kind of a coincidence. Just the intensity of every game brings the best out of everybody, so I mean it just so happened that the bounces were going my way.”
|"It kind of opens your eyes as to how much harder you have to work [on the NHL level]. So when I came back here after camp I tried to work on my overall game – getting bigger, stronger, just trying to get better every day.” |
James Boyd, Mississauga’s assistant general manager and co-coach, has a different explanation.
“First and foremost, he’s a power forward, but we don’t think he gets credit enough for his skills because he plays that power game,” said Boyd. “He’s got a great set of hands and a wicked shot. When he’s throwing the weight around, he’s a very, very powerful man and he’s a quick skater. He’s been a top producer for us for the last two years and we use him in all key situations. He’s our guy in front of the net on the power play most nights and finds those three-foot rebounds in front of the net and puts them home.”
The 6-foot, 215-pound winger had a chance to work on those skills at Ducks training camp last September, which he described as the thrill of a lifetime. “Going in there and getting to go to main camp and play with the pros – guys like (Corey) Perry and (Bobby) Ryan and (Ryan) Getzlaf – I tried to take anything I could from them. I just tried to watch how they act on and off the ice and tried to find out what it takes to be at their level.
"It kind of opens your eyes as to how much harder you have to work. So when I came back here after camp I tried to work on my overall game – getting bigger, stronger, just trying to get better every day.”
In late December, his hard work was rewarded when he signed a three-year, entry-level contract with Anaheim.
“It came as a little bit of a surprise that it came so early, but it was a really exciting time for myself and my family. I’m just so thankful that I got the opportunity,” said Smith-Pelly, who went on to have the most productive regular season of his three campaigns with Mississauga, tallying 36 goals and 30 assists in 67 games, while registering a stellar +49 rating.
That was followed by his breakout playoff performance, which had only one downside. His team was upset in the Ontario League final, losing to Owen Sound in overtime of Game 7. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but the Memorial Cup provides a savored second chance.
|“Anytime you go to a camp your main goal is to make the team, so I’m going to try and go in there next year and try as hard as I can and battle for a spotI. f it doesn’t work out it’ll be a pretty big disappointment, but not the end of the world.” |
“Usually when you lose, you’re packing your bags and going home but we got the special opportunity of being able to redeem ourselves and we’re trying to take advantage of that,” said Smith-Pelly, who began skating at age seven and playing hockey the following year.
After Mississauga split its first two games of the tournament – losing to Quebec League champion Saint John before beating Western League titleholder Kootenay – the team has its final round-robin game on Wednesday, when there will be a chance for retribution against Owen Sound. At stake is a berth in Friday’s semifinal.
“I’d be lying if I said we weren’t looking for revenge," said Smith-Pelly, who is known as “Devo” to his teammates. "It was pretty heartbreaking losing four one-goal games, three in overtime, so it was tough to go out like that. But we’re trying to forget about it now. We’re not really thinking about it anymore. We’re thinking about winning the Memorial Cup.”
As soon as the tournament ends, Smith-Pelly will turn his attention to next fall. He can hardly wait to go to training camp again with Anaheim.
“Anytime you go to a camp your main goal is to make the team, so I’m going to try and go in there next year and try as hard as I can and battle for a spot," he said. "And if it doesn’t work out I’ve still got another year of junior eligibility. And 95 percent of the guys that age come back (to junior) anyway, so if it doesn’t work out it’ll be a pretty big disappointment, but not the end of the world.”
|“Those are grown men up there at the next level so you’ve got to be in elite shape, not just good shape.” |
He added that to make the Ducks, he’ll need to get even bigger, stronger, and better conditioned.
“Those are grown men up there at the next level so you’ve got to be in elite shape, not just good shape,” he said.
Boyd is confident Smith-Pelly will successfully make the transition to the NHL – more likely sooner than later.
“He’s turned his game into a two-way, up-and-down game," Boyd said. "I think he plays a pro game. He chips pucks out and he chips pucks in and he finishes the body when he can and he’s very sound positionally. He still accumulates a lot of points, but he’s much more defensively responsible and he’s been much more consistent this year. He plays a very efficient game. I think that’ll translate well to the pro ranks.”