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2015-16 Canadiens season review: Devante Smith-Pelly

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It was a tale of two seasons for Smith-Pelly, but only if you look at his goals column.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Devante Smith-Pelly joined the Montreal Canadiens organization near the end of the 2014-15 season. He was with the club for about one year (including last year's playoffs) before he was traded to the New Jersey Devils at this season's trade deadline.

Over that time, he played 66 regular-season games for Montreal, contributing seven goals and eight assists, adding an additional three points in last year's two-round post-season run. In 2015-16, he notched six goals and six assists, all coming in five-on-five play.

Upon leaving the club, he nearly matched that production — eight goals and five asssts — in 18 games with the Devils. Though even the most vocal opponents of the trade would admit that his 23.5% shooting percentage would not translate over an entire season (it would put him on this esteemed list if it could), some were convinced the Habs had let another potential top-six right winger get away without being placed in the proper situation to produce.

CF/60 CA/60 CF% SF/60 SA/60 SF% SCF/60 SCA/60 SCF%
Smith-Pelly 49.9 (13th) 53.0 (3rd) 48.5% (12th) 28.4 (12th) 28.4 (4th) 50.0% (11th) 21.2 (11th) 25.3 (4th) 45.5% (12th)

Five-on-five stats via WAR On Ice.

Smith-Pelly rolling 5-game CF Image credit: Corsica.hockey

The part about Smith-Pelly receiving a deployment that was not conducive to goal-scoring was accurate, as he started just 41.4% of his end-zone shifts in the opponent's end. He managed to launch 60 shots on goal largely playing a fourth-line role, converting on 10% of those (which is his career rate, even with his phenomenal end-of-year streak factored in).

Bottom-six performance

Playing mostly with Brian Flynn and Torrey Mitchell, Smith-Pelly's trio played very well defensively. Among the top 14 Habs forwards by ice time, he personally ranked no lower than fourth-best in shot attempts against per sixty minutes, shots against per 60, and rate of allowing scoring chances.

Given the tough zone starts, those numbers are quite impressive, though the downside is that the line was able to see very little time in the attacking end, let alone creating anything much in terms of offence, and Smith-Pelly found himself just as close to the bottom of the generation stats as he was to the top of the suppression categories.

Top-six production

Smith-Pelly didn't spend his entire season starting in his own end. He was also given a bit of time alongside more offensive players.

Smith-Pelly PvP radar Image credit: Corsica.hockey (Grey line = NHL median)

From November 1 to 11, he was part of some early-season experimentation as Alex Galchenyuk got some work playing the centre position, with Lars Eller rotating in from the left side at critical times. The line was zonally sheltered to allow Galchenyuk to adjust, with a relative offensive-zone start percentage of +24.8%. Smith-Pelly matched those players in shot attempts, but had just two individual high-danger scoring chances to the five by Galchenyuk and six by Eller in four games together.

The plan was to use Smith-Pelly in an aggressive net-front role similar to what Brendan Gallagher was doing on the top line, but Smith-Pelly was unable to use his frame to his — or the team's — advantage.

Shortly afterward, he was given another chance to play in a top-six role, this time with two of the Canadiens' best all-around players in Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty. With a slightly skewed offensive deployment, the line had possession numbers just under the team average over that span. In four games, Smith-Pelly managed just three shots on goal, but was able to put two of them into the net, both coming in Carey Price's last game of the season on November 25.

Overall play

The stats match what many people saw from Smith-Pelly's time with the Canadiens: a player who played decently in a bottom-six role, but who just didn't have the drive to apply his tools to the offensive side of the game. The Canadiens' management and coaching staffs made some mistakes along the way during the colossal failure that was the 2015-16 season, but keeping Devante Smith-Pelly off of the top two lines for most of the season was not one of them.