Although Devante Smith-Pelly has been used as a fourth liner and penalty killer thus far, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz hinted on Wednesday that it’s possible the winger will eventually earn a bigger role in Washington.
“With him, he’s been moved around a couple of times,” Trotz told reporters in Vancouver, where the Caps face the Canucks on Thursday night (10 p.m. NBC Sports Washington).
“Sometimes you tend to not trust your own game,” the coach continued. “And I want him to trust his own game. I think he’s got some upside to him.”
Smith-Pelly arrived in Washington on a two-way contract and in need of a strong training camp to lock down a spot. He did exactly that and has earned a sweater for each of the Caps’ first nine games.
The 25-year-old Scarborough, Ontario native is still searching for his first goal but he does have three assists—all of them primary helpers. DSP’s three points, in fact, are the most among Washington’s fourth liners, as are his 10 shots on goal.
Smith-Pelly’s role and time on ice, however, have fluctuated quite a bit in the opening weeks of the season. He’s seen as much as 15:05 of ice time and has been a top-pair penalty killer. But he’s also seen as little as 6:02 of ice with virtually no PK minutes.
Despite the inconsistency with which he’s been deployed so far, Trotz said he sees more responsibility in Smith-Pelly's future here, particularly as he gets more comfortable within the Caps' game.
“I think he can play with higher-end players,” Trotz said. “I think he can play different roles. He’s going to get that opportunity.”
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Trotz didn’t say when he envisions Smith-Pelly getting that opportunity. But with the Caps banged up, struggling to score consistently and needing more production from wingers not named Alex Ovechkin or T.J. Oshie, Trotz sounded like a coach who’s at least entertained the thought of promoting Smith-Pelly.
“We’re only nine games into it. He’s going to get that opportunity. He’s shown it in the past,” Trotz said. “He played in Anaheim with [Ryan] Getzlaf and [Corey] Perry and people like that and had decent success.”
Smith-Pelly has indeed flashed offensive ability in the past. In the 2014 playoffs, he led Anaheim with five goals in 12 games while frequently skating alongside Getzlaf and Perry. At the end of the 2015-16 season, he scored eight goals in 18 games as a New Jersey Devil.
So the potential is there, and he's shown it in small doses this season.
“He gets some good looks,” Trotz said. “He gets himself in position to get those looks. Now we just to find the back of the net a little bit.”