The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.
Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.
Today's question: Will Devante Smith-Pelly's postseason performance translate into more production this season?
Tarik: Devante Smith-Pelly’s goal-scoring surge in the playoffs, to me, was one of the remarkable storylines of the Caps’ Stanley Cup run.
- He scored seven goals in 24 playoff games after scoring SEVEN goals in 75 regular season contests.
- His goal total in the regular season was tied for 13th on the Caps. His goal total in the playoffs was tied for fourth best.
- He accomplished it all while skating just 12:02 per game, the 16th highest total on the team.
The goals weren’t stat-padders at the end of lopsided results, either. They weren’t gimmes.
Many of DSP’s goals were as clutch as they were skillful. Like his third period snipe in Game 6 vs. Columbus. And his third period tally in Game 6 vs. Tampa Bay. And his game-winner in Game 4 vs. the Golden Knights. And, of course, the diving, kick-the-puck-to-his-stick marker that knotted Game 5 in the third period and set the stage for the Cup-clinching comeback.
Smith-Pelly’s postseason surge figures to be huge for his confidence entering next season.
The 26-year-old is also going to be plenty motivated to build on that momentum after he passed up more security to sign a one-year, $1 million extension to remain in Washington.
What is DSP’s offensive ceiling? It’s difficult to say without knowing exactly how he fits into Todd Reirden’s plans. But assuming he returns to the same bottom-six role, I don’t see why he couldn’t put up 12 and 12—numbers that would solidify his NHL future and compare to Daniel Winnik’s production in 2016-17.
Let’s not forget that Smith-Pelly produced a 14-goal, 11-assist season (in just 64 games) split between Montreal and New Jersey a few years back. So the upside is there. But, again, it’ll come down to usage. Only six players last season topped a dozen goals while skating less than 13 minutes per game.
JJ: Smith-Pelly's NHL career has been nothing if not inconsistent. One thing appears to be clear is that he is at his best when he has something to prove.
In his first season in the NHL, Smith-Pelly recorded 13 points in 49 games with Anaheim followed by five goals in 12 games in the playoffs. HIs offense was pretty limited during the rest of his time in Anaheim and in Montreal after getting traded, but he took off again when the Canadiens traded him to New Jersey. After scoring only 12 points in 46 games with the Canadiens in 2015-16, Smith-Pelly exploded for 13 points in 18 games with the Devils. A lackluster season the following year led to a buyout and he made his way to Washington.
For that reason, a one-year deal looks like a smart gamble for the Caps. It makes sense that the team would want to see him do it again before committing long-term. From his perspective, it may be the motivation he needs to stay hungry and perform next season.
Or maybe not.
There are those players out there who seem to have an extra gear when it comes to the playoffs. After two dominant postseason performances, Smith-Pelly may be one of those players. Does his prowess in the postseason make it worth getting only 15-20 points worth of production over the course of the regular season? At $1 million for one year, sure, but it makes it very difficult to gauge his worth from year to year.
So what can we expect from Smith-Pelly this season? You can expect an extremely confident and motivated player to take the ice. His usage as a bottom-six player will limit his overall production, but I have a hard time believing he will fall off quite as dramatically as we have seen in the past. My guess is he finishes somewhere between 20-30 points for the season. As long as he performs in the playoffs, however, I'm sure the Caps won't mind.
Other key Caps questions:
- How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
- Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
- Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?
- Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?
- Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing a long-term contract?
- Which Braden Holtby will we see this season?
- Will Tom Wilson make more headlines this season for his offense or physical play?
- Can Pheonix Copley handle the backup role?
- Can Jakub Vrana consistently play like a top-six forward?