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.”
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.”