The festivities are officially underway. The last week before the NHL trade deadline will give hockey fans more speculations and unexpected twists than an M. Night Shyamaladingdong movie, only this time people care.
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) February 24, 2015
The news came Tuesday morning that rookie Jiri Sekac was traded to the Anaheim Ducks in return of Devante Smith-Pelly.
Hard Hats Required
There shouldn’t be any doubts by now on what kind of team the Montreal Canadiens’ management is trying to ice. Hard work trumps all.
Some negative can be found in the Habs’ play this year. You may disagree with their tendencies toward dump-and-chase, you can point to the low possession numbers, and you can accuse forwards of over passing. All of it legitimate criticism but one thing you can’t hold against that team is that they don’t work hard.
Starting With Two Strikes Against Him
A lot of that hard work mentality comes from the notion that playing in the NHL is a privilege. Something you have to work for everyday. A privilege greatly appreciated by players who have gone through the minor leagues system, especially the AHL.
Jiri Sekac’s agent was very clear last summer that for Sekac, it was the NHL and nothing else. If sent down to the American League, he would rather bolt to the KHL. This is a bold statement to make and uphold, especially when you’re about to play for a team where AHL experience is almost mandatory and under a coach who judge his players not by their talent or offensive production but by their effort day-to-day.
The Canadiens’ best forward and first round draft pick, Max Pacioretty, is a product of the US Development system. At 21 years old, Pacioretty made the shuttle between Montreal and Hamilton. He finished his season having played 52 games with the Montreal Canadiens. The following season he played his first 27 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Pacioretty played a total of 82 games in the AHL, spread over three seasons
Even in a simulated pro environment like the CHL, it is extremely hard to make the jump from junior to NHL, only an elite few do it.
Learning the game in Europe and undrafted, Jiri Sekac needed to adjust to the North-American game and he hurt his chances by turning his nose up on Hamilton. The NHL is not a development league, you come prepared or you don’t play. Sekac did well on his KHL team but that alone isn’t enough to buy you a ticket to the show. Sekac would benefit from some time in the AHL if he aspires to be more than a bottom 6 guy/healthy scratch.
The beginning of the end came February 8th in a game against the Boston Bruins. Jiri Sekac started the game strong but he was repeatedly hit by, among others, Milan Lucic. Sekac showed his colors by completely disappearing from the game. Coaches and especially teammates are looking for everyone to turn up the intensity, especially against a rival like Boston. Sekac decided he was turning the other cheek.
The straw that broke the camel’s back came on the 18th of February. After being a healthy scratch for two straight games, Sekac was reinserted into the line-up. Sekac started the game like a 10-year veteran with a hangover. The Senators took the lead but Sekac never upped his play. He recorded a single shot on net. Michel Therrien decided to bench him after the first period, limiting his ice time to 9:38.
Jiri Sekac played two games after that, including a home game against the Florida Panthers where he played close to 20 minutes (18:19). In those two games he played 44 shifts, recorded three shots on net (all against Florida) and finished with a +/- of -3.
It would be easy to blame the coach. In fact, many do exactly that. Truth is, Jiri Sekac was given plenty of chances for the type of player he is. He was given the same chances Jacob De La Rose and Christian Thomas were given but he didn’t work hard enough to earn more unlike the other two. He never outworked Dale Weise or Brendan Gallagher on the right-wing. Other than a few close calls, he wasn’t much of a threat offensively when he has the size and speed to make some space for himself.
To earn a spot on a top line and PP minutes in the NHL, especially a team atop the standings prime to make a lengthy playoff run, you need more than a good cardio and 109 games in the KHL. At least I would hope so.
Sekac can turn out to be a useful player. Although it could be foretelling that he was traded to the Anaheim Ducks, a team that, over the last two years, repeatedly gets burned with underachieving players like Rene Bourque, Dany Heatley and Dustin Penner.
The Right Resume
Devante Smith-Pelly fits the Montreal Canadiens’ mold perfectly. A young, energetic forward who puts his nose to the grind stone and scores some garbage goals in front of the net. Much closer to the Weise/Gallagher model than Sekac was.
This isn’t the prettiest goal you’ll ever see. More important than the goal is the situation. Game 6 of the Western Conference Quarter Finals. The Ducks lead the series 3-2 and could clinch the series on the road. Down one with little over 30 seconds to go in the third period, Devante Smith-Pelly is on the ice with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
That alone should tell you enough about the kind of player he is and what he can bring to the Montreal Canadiens.
Smith-Pelly has experience in high stakes play. He made team Canada at both the U17 and U20 level, earning gold at U17. An injury kept him to only one game with Team Canada at the 2012 World Junior Championship. In 2011, he went to both the OHL and Memorial Cup finals with the Missauga St-Michael’s. He participated in all Anaheim Ducks’ playoff games last year.
Speaking of crunch-time play, Smith-Pelly has slightly better numbers than Sekac at 5v5 Close.
Smith-Pelly: 48.8% FenwickFor, 2.878 GF/60, 1.645 GA/60, 63.6 GF%, 9 points.
Sekac: 51.4% FenwickFor, 2.375 GF/60, 1.425 GA/60, 62.5 GF%, 7 points.
It’s too early to say Smith-Pelly will be more useful offensively to the Habs than Sekac was. The only thing for sure now is that the Montreal Canadiens got the hardest working player of the two.
This is a good move for the Montreal Canadiens, remains to see if it’ll be the last.
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