The Washington Capitals are back, and currently 28-14-4 after Thursday night’s tough overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils. A win would have been an important one for the Capitals in further securing top spot in the league, but also to further secure a former Devils spot on the top line. Devante Smith-Pelly has transitioned from virtual “nobody” to becoming a key part of the Capitals line-up in quick succession this season.
Devante Smith-Pelly Becoming Key Piece in Capitals Line-Up
Before joining the Capitals in July, Smith-Pelly was far from being seen as an integral piece of the lineup. He was signed as depth. Most saw Smith-Pelly spending some time in the press-box and getting opportunities in the bottom-six. His last season with the Devils was one of his career lows with only nine points for the season. In a team that is notorious for not welcoming mediocre performances, why does Barry Trotz think Smith-Pelly deserves to be on the top line?
Smith-Pelly Is Proving He Can Be Versatile
To play for a dominating team like the Capitals, Smith-Pelly has proven he can be versatile. He has the ability to easily move to and from different line dynamics on the team. Initially starting on the fourth line at the start of the season, Smith-Pelly has a unique skill to find chemistry with every player. Jay Beagle confirmed this when talking about Smith-Pelly in an interview as part of Sports Washington.
“His game is one that can play all four lines which is hard to have. There are not too many guys who can play on the first, second, third or fourth line. He plays the left and the right. He’s incredibly smart out there, easy to play with.”
This Canadian forward is not only versatile in different line setups, but can switch roles within those lines, be it crashing the net, looking for the rebound, or sprinting back to assist the defence in their own zone. This flexibility makes him a valuable asset and is the reason why he playing a bigger role than Tom Wilson and T.J. Oshie in recent games.
Fitting Into A Role
Smith-Pelly has played all but two games this season with the Caps, this in itself shows he has impressed the coaching staff. It’s extremely difficult to maintain a position in a Capitals lineup as they have ample choice of talented players. Statistically, Smith-Pelly is not a top line player. For example, his Corsi For% is only 45.8% with a CF relative % of -3.3.
Players with similar production to Smith-Pelly such as Alex Chiasson (7 goals, 3 assists giving him 10 points) and Andre Burakovsky (3 goals, 8 points) have been unsuccessful in securing a permanent place in the Capitals lineup. Having a defined role in the team is crucial. Smith-Pelly is a big, hard-hitting presence on the ice, this suits the Capitals mantra. He has shown strength and willingness to be a protector of his teammates.
This growing confidence by the coaching staff to give Smith-Pelly more opportunity provides the boost he has been missing. He has surpassed his totals from last season already with six goals, seven assists, giving him a total of 13 points. He was initially brought in to replace the injured T.J. Oshie but was scratched for two games when Oshie recovered. However, this only gave him more determination and hasn’t looked back since. Being on a highly skilled line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom improves his play and ability to read the game. As his ice time extends with their influence, so will his productivity.
With a strong performance against Vegas, Devante Smith-Pelly made his case for why he should stay in the lineup: https://t.co/xfmS39Qc7v
— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) December 27, 2017
Will This Success Continue For Smith-Pelly?
Based on his performance in the Devils game, he may find himself on the second or third line against the Montreal Canadiens, he still has a lot to learn. But that’s OK. His main talent is to mix things up and be a dominant presence regardless of position. Hopefully, he will be a firm fixture in the Capitals lineup for the future. He may have finally found his home.