Does Devante Smith-Pelly Work as a Center for the Anaheim Ducks?


Dec 3, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks right wing Devante Smith-Pelly (12) and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Mark Streit (32) battles for the puck during the second period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

At the beginning of the year, the Anaheim Ducks were feeling pretty confident in their players up the middle.  Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler handle the first and second lines while Nate Thompson takes on a bottom six checking line.  Meanwhile, it was up to Anaheim’s prospects, William Karlsson and Rickard Rakell, to compete for the remaining center position.  Now, both Karlsson and Rakell are down in the AHL because that open center position has, for the time being, been given to a most unlikely source, Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly has long been a big bodied, forechecking forward who has been coming into his own as of this season.  Whether he was on the fourth line in a checking role or on the top line creating offense, he’s been among Anaheim’s more productive forwards, but he cannot find a consistent line to be on.  Bruce Boudreau clearly wants him on the ice, but has been unable to find a suitable place for him.

On November 25th, when the Ducks took on the Calgary Flames, Boudreau decided to try something new and entirely unexpected.  He put Smith-Pelly at the center of the fourth line.  The Ducks won the game despite Smith-Pelly being a -2.   Smith-Pelly was a bit lost, but was able to generate some good pressure in the offensive zone.  Boudreau kept him at the center position and Smith-Pelly was eventually rewarded with a goal in Monday night’s game against the Boston Bruins.

He was centering a line with Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg.  Silfverberg worked to keep it in the zone so that Cam Fowler could get a shot through to the net.  Smith-Pelly and Cogliano were battling hard for position in front of the net and Smith-Pelly was able to tip it through Tukka Rask’s legs for a goal.  Thus, the Ducks had something they had only gotten very sparsely from both Rakell and Karlsson, a goal.  A timely goal at that as Smith-Pelly’s goal put the Ducks up by one at the end of the second period.

Putting Smith-Pelly at center has worked before, but will it continue to work?  He had a less than stellar game against Philadelphia on Wednesday night, but Smith-Pelly still has a lot going for him that might work in his favor as a center.

Oct 13, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Anaheim Ducks right wing Devante Smith-Pelly (12) carries the puck against the Anaheim Ducks at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

His vision on the ice is among the notable reasons he’s been as effective as he has.  He has an ability to spot the open man and find the right passing lane to get it to him.  His positioning as a center may need some work, but as a forward he has an ability to find the open ice and create scoring chances for the Ducks.

He’s a big, strong guy which is just what Boudreau and GM Bob Murray are looking for in centers this year.  At 6’0″ 220lb he’s the heaviest center on the roster, but a bit shorter than Getzlaf and Kesler.  As a forward, he’s usually most effective when he can use that size to get in hard on the forecheck or just muscle his way through the opposing team.  If he can take after Getzlaf and Kesler and use his size to possess and protect the puck, Smith-Pelly could be very effective as a center.  For the time being, however, he’s been hesitant to use his strength to push the puck into the offensive zone which wont fly if he is to be a regular at center.

Another thing Smith-Pelly can bring to the table as a bottom six center is depth scoring.  Karlsson had two goals in sixteen games, and Rakell had zero in seventeen, each with a total of three points a piece.  Smith-Pelly has three points in the last five games.  On the season, Smith-Pelly has four goals and ten points in twenty-four games.  Smith-Pelly’s confidence in his offensive game has grown exponentially since the finals last season.  If that confidence can carry over to his role as a center, then he’d provide an offensive boost that Rakell and Karlsson couldn’t deliver.

Smith-Pelly’s biggest drawback to playing as a center is his lack of experience in the position.  There’s a lot more awareness and responsibility necessary for such a position, and there have been times where Smith-Pelly looks lost as a center.  The confidence necessary to be effective as a center can only come with experience, so, if Boudreau is serious about Smith-Pelly at center, then he’ll have to play him more at the position and allow him time to grow in the position.

Smith-Pelly does have experience at center from his time in the Ontario Hockey League and his time in Norfolk, however, that hardly translates to NHL experience.  Rakell and Karlsson have had a difficult time finding a consistent spot in the lineup, and the same will go for Smith-Pelly as a center if he doesn’t produce for the team.

Faceoffs are another big responsibility.  Smith-Pelly’s faceoff win percentage has hovered around 25% in his time as a center.  It’s improved on a game-by-game basis, but possession is key for the Ducks to succeed and that starts with the faceoff.  His faceoff percentage needs to improve if this is to remain a permanent change.

Already we’ve seen Smith-Pelly start to waver in his role as a center, and part of that is certainly because of his lack of experience.  Now, it’s up to Smith-Pelly to decide whether he wants to step up and take on the added responsibility it takes to be a center, or whether he would be more effective as a winger.  The next couple games may determine just that.