The Capitals have played in 40 games this season. Devante Smith-Pelly has played in 38 of those, but was a healthy scratch for the other two.
For a player in the situation Smith-Pelly finds himself in, the news that he would be scratched must have been pretty hard to take.
Already on the fourth team in his NHL career at the age of 25, this was a big year for Smith-Pelly. He came to Washington on a one-year deal for only $650,000 after getting bought out by the New Jersey Devils in the offseason, a move that took Smith-Pelly completely by surprise.
Considering his past, you may think things must not be going well for Smith-Pelly in Washington if he is getting scratched, but that is not the case at all.
“Every time I've taken him out, his staying power has been much better,” Barry Trotz said after practice Monday. “There’s growth in his game.”
When a beaten-up Capitals team finally got healthy, it meant Trotz would have to make a hard decision about who to take out of the lineup. Initially, Smith-Pelly found himself to be the odd man out.
He was determined to make sure that did not last for very long.
“I've kind of just been trying to show that maybe I bring something to the lineup that you don't want to take out,” Smith-Pelly said.
“He came back into the lineup and I moved him up pretty quick,” Trotz said. “He's making a statement like, ‘you know what? I'm not going to be out again. I'm going to make sure my plays stand alone and make your decisions really, really tough.’”
After getting back into the lineup, Smith-Pelly has worked his way from the fourth line up to the top playing alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
That type of versatility can be hard to find.
How often do you hear a player described as a top-six or bottom-six player? A top line or a fourth line player?
Different lines have different roles and different players have different roles on those lines. Smith-Pelly has shown a unique ability to adapt to whatever line Trotz has put him on this season.
“His game is one that can play all four lines which is hard to have,” Jay Beagle said. “There's 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.”
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Harder than being able to play all four lines is doing it as frequently as Smith-Pelly has.
“Sometimes you click right away, sometimes it takes a couple days or games to kind of get the right chemistry going,” Smith-Pelly said. “For me, my game doesn't really change so it's more just about reading off different guys. A center like [Backstrom] is pretty easy to play with at the moment. It doesn't take too long and I don't mind jumping around for sure.”
In his first game back on the top when Trotz shuffled up the lines, Smith-Pally tallied an assist on Matt Niskanen’s goal, his first point since scoring a goal on Dec. 12 against Colorado.
“For me, I think I've always played my best when I'm heavily relied on,” Smith-Pelly said. ”It's good for my confidence knowing that when things are changing. I'm kind of a guy who gets a look at those high lines.”