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Devante Smith-Pelly was surprised by buy out but confident as training camp approaches

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Devante Smith-Pelly was surprised by buy out but confident as training camp approaches

ARLINGTON, Va. — Devante Smith-Pelly took to the ice Saturday for his first informal skate as a member of the Washington Capital after an unexpected change of scenery over the summer.

This is not where Smith-Pelly expected to be.

The New Jersey Devils elected to buy out the second and final year of the 25-year-old’s contract making him an unexpected free agent. It was a move that caught Smith-Pelly completely by surprise.

“I got the call the day the buyout happened,” he said to CSN after Saturday’s skate. “I had no idea.”

RELATED: CAPS ADD ALEX CHIASSON TO CAMP ROSTER WITH A PTO

It was yet another change in a tumultuous career that started with immense promise. In the 2014 postseason, Smith-Pelly roared onto the NHL stage with five goals in 12 playoff games for the Anaheim Ducks. He has been trying to live up to that postseason ever since. He was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in February 2015 and traded to New Jersey just one year later in February 2016. He seemed to find a spark with the Devils scoring eight goals in 18 games which earned him a two-year deal to stay in New Jersey, but the Devils bought Smith-Pelly out of that contract after scoring just nine points in 53 games last season.

But Smith-Pelly feels as if he may have landed on his feet by signing with the Caps.

“Washington was one of the first teams that we talked to and we thought it would be a good fit,” he said.

New Jersey’s loss could be Washington’s gain if Smith-Pelly is able to raise his play to the level he showed in 2014. How can he do that? He believes confidence is the key.

“I think I showed in New Jersey when I first got there, when I'm confident and feeling good about the way I'm playing I can produce and help out,” Smith-Pelly said. “I'm coming into this camp super confident. I worked hard this summer and I did a lot extra to make sure I'm ready. I'm looking forward to it.”

It’s a good thing he did that extra work because a roster spot is far from guaranteed.

Smith-Pelly is among several players competing for a spot on the Capitals’ fourth line. Nathan Walker, Riley Barber, Chandler Stephenson, Travis Boyd and Anthony Peluso are all expected to compete to earn a spot on the open wings alongside Jay Beagle. The team also added Alex Chiasson on a PTO on Saturday.

Smith-Pelly knows there is plenty of competition just to make the team, but as he is now on his fourth team in his short career, he is willing to do whatever it takes to play.

When asked what he needed to show the team in camp, he said “Whatever coach asks. I think I've always been willing to do that. ... I'll be looking forward to impressing them.”

MORE CAPITALS: DMITRY ORLOV ENTERS THE SEASON AS ONE OF THE CAPS TOP DEFENSEMEN

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No, the Capitals should not trade prospect Ilya Samsonov to fix the defense

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No, the Capitals should not trade prospect Ilya Samsonov to fix the defense

Let’s face it, the Caps need help on defense. Yes, they held the NHL’s best offense to only two goals on Tuesday and one of them was an empty-netter, but with two rookies in the lineup, a 37-year-old Brooks Orpik logging top-four minutes and Matt Niskanen on LTIR, chances are Tuesday’s game was more the exception and not the norm.

The Capitals roster certainly took a step back from last season, but the team is still very much in win-now mode. That means they need an upgrade to their defense and they need it fast.

RELATED: CAN MOVING BURAKOVSKY DOWN TO THE THIRD LINE GIVE HIM A SPARK?

Should they trade their top prospect in Ilya Samsonov to get it?

Matt Larkin of The Hockey News makes that argument in an article published Wednesday.

Larkin writes:

The Caps do also have an A-plus piece in Ilya Samsonov, the best goaltending prospect in hockey. He’s still playing in the KHL and has no chance to pass Braden Holtby on the depth chart once he does come to North America, so Samsonov is worth far more to MacLellan as a trading chip. Don’t get too spooked by the Filip Forsberg debacle, Caps fans. It was one of the worst trades in NHL history, but it was an anomaly. Samsonov would likely yield the Caps something that really helps them. It wouldn’t be Martin Erat 2.0.

My response? No, no, a thousand times, NO!

Yes, the Capitals would get a good return for trading away the best goalie prospect in the NHL, but Larkin is missing something important. Erat is only half of what makes the Forsberg trade sting. The other half is seeing Forsberg absolutely live up to his potential as a top-line player. It’s seeing him lead the Nashville Predators to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017. That latter point is what should give the Caps pause when considering trading away Samsonov.

Imagine watching Samsonov become one of the top goalies in the NHL while playing with another team, leading them to the conference finals or even beyond. That will all be totally worth it considering the package the Caps got in exchange helped them make the playoffs once, right?

History will not be kind to a Samsonov trade.

Yes, if the Caps trade Samsonov and the return helps the team win a Stanley Cup, no one will care if he goes on to become the next Dominik Hasek and yes, history has shown that in the NHL all you have to do is make the playoffs and you have a shot. But allow me to ask one very tough question: Are the Capitals really one defenseman away from winning a Stanley Cup? If not, what else do they need and would a Samsonov trade really net them all of that?

The answer to both questions is no. Defense is certainly the team’s biggest weakness, but let’s not gloss over the fact that Washington has 22 goals in their first seven games and 17 of those goals have come from three players. That’s not sustainable. Let’s not gloss over the fact that Washington is third in the NHL with a shooting percentage of 12.03 when the highest shooting percentage in the entire NHL last season was 9.20. That’s not sustainable.

There’s another issue with trading Samsonov that Larkin does not address: Money. The Caps have none. Moving Samsonov would do nothing to help the team’s cap constraints and any trade the team could make would have to include moving a player off the active roster as well.

MORE CAPITALS: WHAT DOES GRAOVAC'S INJURY MEAN TO THE CAPS?

Samsonov is under contract through the 2017-18 season. When he does eventually come to North America, no, he will not pass Holtby on the depth chart…initially. But how many people thought the same thing about Andrei Vasilevskiy and Ben Bishop in Tampa Bay? Vasilevskiy is now the starter and that happened a lot sooner than many expected. Plus, with all due respect to Holtby, isn’t that the ideal scenario to have a starting goalie play out his prime and have another goalie ready to take his place already on your bench?

Would a Samsonov trade be as bad as the Forsberg trade? No. The history of that trade continues to hang over the franchise and I cannot see general manager Brian MacLellan taking anything less than a king’s ransom before he parts with the young netminder. But the bar should not be set at “do better than the Forsberg trade.”

Granted, the Caps can’t do nothing. They need to fix the defense soon or they will have dug themselves a hole in the standings they can’t dig out of. Trading away your best asset and potential franchise goalie, however, seems shortsighted.

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Will Andre Burakovsky's demotion spark the Caps' third line?

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Will Andre Burakovsky's demotion spark the Caps' third line?

Andre Burakovksy was bumped down to the third line on Thursday as Caps Coach Barry Trotz attempts to jumpstart the scuffling winger and ignite his team’s inconsistent goal production.

The move, of course, reunites Burakovsky (0 goals, 2 assists) with Lars Eller (0 goals, 2 assists) and Brett Connolly (1 goal, 1 assist).

Among Trotz's reasons for making the switch:

  • The trio had a very productive stretch together midway through last season…and all three could use a spark right now.
  • A shakeup was probably in order, anyway. The Caps have scored two or fewer goals in three of the past four games. Now two lines have new pieces, with Burakovsky joining the third line and rugged winger Tom Wilson (0g, 0a) on the left side of Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. In fact, Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie have accounted for 77-percent of the team’s goals thus far.
  • The move puts Burakovsky, a left shot, on the right side. Trotz believes he’s more effective attacking from that position.   

Asked about Burakovsky’s struggles, Trotz acknowledged that he’s seeing what everyone is seeing: No. 65 is taking too long to pull the trigger on his shots.

RELATED: WHAT WILL GRAOVAC'S INJURY MEAN FOR THE CAPS?

“He is taking a little bit too long and they’re getting blocked,” Trotz said. “The window is so small in this league because the defenders are good and there’s back pressure [from forwards]. And when the window gets extended from his standpoint offensively, those windows of opportunity get shut down real quick.”

Burakovsky has also missed the net—a lot. According to NHL.com, he’s put nine shots on net (four snap shots, four wrist shots and a redirection). He’s also misfired nine times, sending two over the net and seven wide of it.

“Right now, when I didn’t score yet, I’m trying to just snipe a little bit too much, just trying to pick that one corner instead of catching [the puck] and getting it off really quick and maybe surprise the goalie,” Burakovsky said. “I’m just trying to do a little bit too much right now. That’s what happens when you want something to really happen. I really want to get going, get my game going. And then you try to force stuff. …It’s just confidence. When I get the first one, they are going to start coming automatically.”

He added: “I’m not worried at all.”

More from Burakovsky on speeding up his shot.

As for moving Burakovsky to the right side, Trotz explained: “Playing on the [right] side it allows him to get a shot off a little quicker than playing on the left side. Because when you’re playing the left side you’re either shooting a little bit from the outside or you’re dragging it into the middle and then you’re trying to turn your body and get through.”

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Eller said it only took a few minutes for the trio to begin feeling comfortable again.

“There is chemistry there that we know is there,” he said. “We felt it in practice, created a couple of good looks. It feels really natural playing with Conno and Burky. When you have good chemistry you have anticipation for each other’s next move. You just know what the guy is going to do next and where the puck is going to go next. That’s chemistry and we have some of that.”

Obviously, it’s impossible to know if the move will have the desired effect. But we do know this much: the one thing that’s kept Burakovsky from reaching the 20-goal plateau in past seasons were extended droughts. And this—if he doesn’t get on the board soon—is threatening to become another one of those.

“I said [to him], ‘Don’t think too much,’” Trotz recalled of a recent conversation he had with the 22-year-old. “Just understand you’re going to be a real productive player in this league for a long time, and understand what’s giving you trouble finding the back of the net.’ I think he’ll be fine.”