MONTREAL – Devante Smith-Pelly only played 14 games last season and the year before he had to go into exile with a team in China to play professional hockey. This time, he hopes to take advantage of the context affecting the Canadiens’ organization to return to the NHL.
As he says himself, smiling, he is only 29 years old and not 49 years old. He therefore believes himself in a position to be able to play a few more seasons before hanging up his skates. It will be up to him to prove it since the Laval Rocket has only granted him a professional test contract for the moment.
His 14-game experience in 2020-21 with the Ontario Reign in the American Hockey League had not been enough for a team to take ownership of their services this season.
“I’m glad to be back. During this wait, I tried to find work with a team. It was done pretty quickly when my agent told me the Rocket was interested in me showing up with the team, I jumped at the chance. Obviously I’ve been with this organization before so I know the surroundings and everything. It was obvious to accept to try and help the team, ”Smith-Pelly told media on Monday.
Already that he had moved a little away from the NHL before the outbreak of the pandemic, this situation only complicated his desire to return.
“Yeah, it’s been a tough two years for everyone, not just the players. I tried to stay positive through it all, ”said DSP, who is delighted with this opening.
“It’s a relief in the sense that I wasn’t playing. Training and skating with a guy or two isn’t ideal. My job is to play and belong to a team. As for my chances of getting a contract, I’m going one day at a time, we should play on Wednesday and I want to make sure I help the team, ”said the one who lives in Toronto.
Obviously the first step will be to display sufficient physical conditioning in order to help the Rocket. Smith-Pelly has occasionally had trouble on this side.
“We’ve been practicing for two days, it’s hard to say a little. He’s got a lot of experience, but he hasn’t played that often this year. He may be a little behind the rest because of his physical conditioning. But if he can give us experience, that could help us, ”reacted head coach Jean-François Houle on this subject.
The numerous cases of COVID-19 in the Canadian risk causing a hasty entry on the scene of the right-hander. It’s simple, the Rocket only had 12 attackers on Monday and four defenders in training. If the Habs do not give up forwards to Laval soon, Smith-Pelly would get his first audition on Wednesday when the Rocket returns to action.
We have to go back to April 24, 2019 to retrace his last game in the NHL. The next few months will determine if he has to settle for a late career in the American League.
“I don’t think I’m averse to playing in the AHL, but I don’t want to project too much into the future right now, I’m approaching it one day at a time. I can still play several good seasons, ”replied the man who has 395 games of experience in the NHL including 66 with the CH.
Still, in 2017-18, Smith-Pelly seemed poised to relaunch his NHL career. After a 75-game season with the Washington Capitals, he played an important role with seven playoff goals toward the Stanley Cup. The following season, he ended up in the American League instead. Would he do something else to avoid this scenario?
“Not really,” DSP launches without being able to stop staring at the ceiling. I started this year with great confidence and had a good start. Who knows what happened? I don’t want to go into too much detail. When I arrived (in the AHL), I wanted to help the hopes by being one of the oldest. I think I left a positive impact on these kids, ”mentioned the second round pick in 2010.
Almost a month without playing for the Rocket
Considering that the Rocket has to make do without several guns held back by the Canadian, it’s not impossible that DSP will find a way to quickly stand out.
Additionally, the Rocket players haven’t played since December 17. This unwanted hiatus will have stretched for nearly a month and the return to action on Wednesday the 12th will take place behind closed doors at Place Bell in Laval.
“We have several new players and the two practices (Sunday and Monday) were only used to help the players find their legs. They had a little rust, it’s been a few weeks without skating. But all the teams go through similar things with players arriving from all over the place, you have to deal with that, ”admitted Houle.
“It’s not easy, we haven’t been on the ice since December 18th, it’s been a long time. Each time we host a player, we integrate him into the group and adapt, ”added the coach.
For now, Houle and his charges are preparing to play Wednesday, in Laval, as well as Friday, in Springfield, and Saturday, in Hartford. It is understandable to be careful with all the changes that have occurred.
The months of February, March and April promise to be busy with matches to resume. Houle can only wish that most of his mainstays were back to help for his club.
In the meantime, he highlighted the work of a few regulars who were not recalled by the Canadian, in particular because they do not have an NHL contract. He named (Gabriel) Bourque, (Danick) Martel, (Brandon) Gignac and (Kevin) Roy in attack as well as (Tobie) Bisson, (Carl) Neill and (Terrance) Amorosa in defense.
Reinforcement could come from Joël Teasdale (knee) who has returned to training, but this is an option in the medium term. As for Captain Xavier Ouellet, he is not ready to put on his skates.
In front of the net, it is not problematic with the presence of Michael McNiven, Kevin Poulin and Louis-Philip Guindon.