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Who is Devante Smith-Pelly? The newest Montreal Canadiens forward

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Forget who he was traded for, who is Devante Smith-Pelly, and can he be an impact player for the Canadiens?

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Drafted 42nd overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Devante Smith-Pelly cracked the NHL much earlier than expected, playing 49 games with the Anaheim Ducks in 2011-12, a bit of a retooling year for the Ducks, who missed the playoffs. Smith-Pelly was a nice surprise, seven goals and six assists, and 1.33 points per minute played in all situations (1.23 at even strength). Those aren't really remarkable numbers, but it's very rare for teenage players who aren't elite to produce in the NHL, so it is notable.

Smith-Pelly was a strong junior hockey player, leading his team in scoring with over a point per game in his draft year, ahead of the older Casey Cizikas. The following season he was just under a point per game, and finished 2nd on his team in points, but improved his goal scoring totals, and led his team in scoring in the playoffs.

After his surprising rookie season in Anaheim, Smith-Pelly spent most of the following two seasons in the AHL, where he struggled mightily in his first season, but was much more effective the next, in 2013-14. Last season, Smith-Pelly scored the sixth most goals per game in the AHL, ahead of well-regarded prospects like Teemu Pulkkinen and Emerson Etem, and just behind Jeremy Morin and Mike Hoffman.

In points per game however, Smith-Pelly was way down at 47th, and his goal production may have been a bit of a mirage thanks to a 21.6% shooting percentage, considering he was only putting 2.27 shots on net per game, in spite of a ton of powerplay time. That same year, he was called up for the playoffs and rattled off an impressive five goals in 12 playoff games, but yet again, a sky high shooting percentage of 19.2% clouds how well he was actually playing.

Unfortunately for Smith-Pelly, his performance this season hasn't been buoyed by a high personal shooting percentage, and even with high quality linemates, his production at 22-years-old closely mirrors his production at 19.

What kind of player is he?

So Smith-Pelly has been on a disappointing development curve, but all that tells us is that he hasn't been what he was hoped to be when he was drafted. What was the hope?

According to scouting reports from Corey Pronman, Smith-Pelly is a powerful skater, but he doesn't have that explosiveness that you see in an ideal power forward. He's not slow by any means, but think of his skating as closer to P.K. Subban than Nathan Beaulieu, though not as good as either.

He has a solid release, and a relatively powerful shot, but his puck skills are weak, and his offensive awareness wasn't high enough for him to ever crack Pronman's top-10 Ducks prospects, nor did he ever make Pronman's top 100 prospects around the NHL.

Pronman has written pretty consistently that while Smith-Pelly has a top-six level shot, his skill set trends more towards the fourth line. He brings a high level of physicality, and can bring a certain level of chaos when forechecking, but he hasn't displayed the instincts to be truly effective with or without the puck, though Pronman noted in 2012 that he saw improved hockey sense from Smith-Pelly over his junior career.


So what can we really expect from Smith-Pelly? I can't say I've seen every game of his NHL career, but I have seen a fair amount. Four of his five goals this season have been tip ins from the crease area, with the other being a clean breakaway. Throughout his NHL career he's scored on nine tip ins, five tap ins on the goal mouth, three odd-man rushes, and two wrist shots. From his career so far, there isn't much of a hint of the great shot that has been described, but perhaps there is a certain amount of net presence.

Considering how few shots Smith-Pelly generates, his frame, playing style, and skating ability, the player he reminds me most of in the NHL is a lesser Chris Stewart. Essentially, a player who can score, but is average to far below average in most other areas. A nice streak of high shooting percentage comes around once in awhile, but when the puck isn't bouncing for him, Smith-Pelly doesn't seem to bring much.

Stewart scored at fantastic paces in three separate seasons, but only in one of those was his shot volume impressive, with the other seasons being huge spikes in shooting percentage. Smith-Pelly doesn't have the skill level of Stewart, but as a high brow comparable, it kinda works.

Don't expect Smith-Pelly to ever hit the heights that Stewart did early in his career, but 15 goal seasons aren't out of the question in good years, and maybe more if his development takes a giant leap forward. The probability of that though, is very slight.