Devante Smith-Pelly may have set the bar unreasonably high with the white-hot start to his career with the New Jersey Devils (more on that below) after being acquired last on trade deadline day last season, but he is proving to be a valuable player with the team. DSP seems to be a solid fit with the young core of players that the franchise has been adding as they search for their first playoff berth since 2012. He started a bit slow this season (as far as point production) but the 24-yar-old picked up a point in each of the team’s last three games (1g-2a) and has done a great job screening goalies as well as retrieving loose pucks to go along with some scoring prowess.
“He goes to the dirty areas, gets in there, creates turnovers,” Adam Henrique said, describing Smith-Pelly’s game after a 3-1 home win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. “He won a stick battle in front of the net there (on his first goal of the season); he found a way to get loose and that was a big goal for us.” Meanwhile, DSP deflected all of the credit to rookie Nick Lappin, who was appearing in his second career NHL game. “Lappin just made a great play; I just tried to get my stick loose and get it (the puck) towards the net. It just happened to go up over his (Andrei Vasilevskiy’s) shoulder, again a great play by Laps just to get it there.”
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 30, 2016
“His compete level has been very good and he’s one of the guys we’ve moved around quite a bit on different lines and that was because some guys were getting off to slow starts,” New Jersey coach John Hynes told The Hockey Writers after his team finished October 4-2-2 with the win over Tampa.
“Devante came into camp in great shape, he plays the game the right way and he’s really invested in how we want to play; tonight was a good example of that. I’m really proud of the fact that even when he wasn’t getting rewarded on the score sheet for how hard he was playing, it’s nice to be able to see him stay consistent and he got rewarded for it tonight.”
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 30, 2016
Following the win over Tampa that improved the Devils home record to 4-0-1, THW caught up with DSP to find out if he finally feels at home in New Jersey, why he thinks he’s been successful here and if he ever had a hot streak like the beginning of his career in red and black.
The Hockey Writers: Not that you weren’t playing well before, but now you have a point in each of your last three games; are you feeling like your game is heating up now?
Devante Smith-Pelly: It’s nice to get points, I don’t think I really changed anything from before. I probably could have scored a couple of more goals earlier in the year; it’s just about staying the course and keep doing what I’m doing. It’ll happen.
THW: The lines have been altered a lot through the first eight games of the season, but that hasn’t seemed to affect the team too much. Is it fair to say that at this point this group is confident with whomever they are out there with this season?
DSP: I think everyone just compliments each other, everyone can read off of each other…everyone has played with everyone else from training camp to last year, so it’s not a big deal. I don’t think we mind it.
THW: Was this the best case scenario for you guys, with a game tonight after the way last night’s game ended (a 3-2 overtime loss to Chicago)?
DSP: Yeah, for sure; rather than sitting on it and having a couple of hard practices in between (grins). It’s definitely better to have a quick turnaround, to be able to forget it and just move on.
THW: You were acquired by New Jersey at the trade deadline last season, so even though you don’t have a full season with the Devils under your belt yet, are you starting to feel like New Jersey is home?
DSP: Yeah, last year I lived in a hotel for the whole time I was here, so it never really felt like home. I have my place now and I’m getting more used to the area, and all that stuff so it feels a lot like home now and I’m really happy to be here.
Devante Smith-Pelly gets knocked down, then parks himself outside the crease and nets a goal:
THW: Is there something about the team or some of your teammates that you know now and didn’t know before you were traded here?
DSP: For me, it’s seeing how hard the best players work. Obviously, I knew about Greenie (Andy Greene) and how good of a defenseman he is, but I never knew how hard he worked, how many shots he blocks and stuff like that. Obviously, I knew Hallsy (Taylor Hall) could score goals, but I never knew how hard he worked. I knew Henrique can score goals, but I never really knew how good he kills penalties. Just seeing how hard all the top guys work on a day-to-day basis; that’s stuff that I had no idea before coming here.
THW: The players all really seem to have bought into and truly believe in coach Hynes’ philosophies and system, what is it about his style that you all seem so dedicated to?
DSP: I think it’s the fact that we see when we’re doing it (well), we are beating good teams. Or a couple of times we had teams where we wanted them, despite the fact that we gave up late goals – you see the system, when everyone is buying in, we can compete with every team. I think every game has been a one-goal game pretty much? (six-of-eight, excluding home wins over Arizona and Tampa). Just seeing that – that builds trust. If we were doing that and getting smoked 10-0, I think we’d probably feel different (laughs). We see that if we play the right way, we do what we’re supposed to do…we can be in every game.
Quite the debut game for DSP with the NJD:
THW: The success you had last year with New Jersey after the trade (13 points/8 goals in 18 games) was insane, have you ever had a hot streak like that before?
DSP: Junior maybe? (smiles) Maybe AHL? I don’t know. It was a little nuts, and it was really fun. I have to try to forget about that though because this year is a new year.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.