One of two Leafs TV segments featuring Smith-Pelly leading up to the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles
Devante Smith-Pelly has spent his entire life in the Greater Toronto Area. Born in Scarborough and drafted by the Mississauga Saint Michael's Majors of the OHL, Devo, as his friends call him, is a Toronto kid. And yet, he was never much of a Maple Leafs fan.
"I was always a Chicago fan and a Calgary Flames fan," Smith-Pelly recalls. "I always liked Jarome Iginla, the way he played and the way he was a leader on his team."
Iginla was a model for Devo's game as a youngster, when the sub 6-foot 185-pound right-winger fashioned himself into a dynamic goal scorer that climbed to the 8th overall selection in the 2008 OHL Bantam Draft. However, as his career has progressed (and his body has filled out to now 6-foot 210 pounds), he no longer looks to Iginla as the model for his game.
"When I was younger, I was a guy looked upon to be a little bit of a leader, score a lot more goals," Smith-Pelly notes. "But coming through the OHL, my role changed, [I became] more of a two-way guy, playing a lot more like a Dustin Brown type of player."
And that was his player profile heading into the 2010 NHL Entry Draft: a physical, energy forward who finished every check, but whose well-developed shot and scoring instincts gave him incredible offensive upside. It was a player type that any general manager would love to have, particularly Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, who had acquired the 43rd overall pick on Day 2 of the Draft.
"I guess there was a lot of talk of [the Maple Leafs picking me] during the Draft," Smith-Pelly says. "I was mic'd up by Leafs TV, and I guess that was the hint they might be picking the hometown guy. Then I got picked, and they took the mic off me."
Smith-Pelly went one spot earlier than many expected, 42nd overall to Anaheim. The Ducks had expressed ample interest in the young forward, contacting him before the Combine, interviewing him during the Combine and then talking to him the day before the Draft. In that first conversation, the Ducks told him that they were looking for guys who were strong and physically fit. Smith-Pelly responded by recording four Top 10 finishes in the Combine's fitness tests, showing off the lower body strength he developed during his 25-pound weight gain in the OHL and perhaps sealing his fate as a Ducks draft pick.
And Smith-Pelly is happy to be a Duck. He wasn't hoping to be drafted by Toronto, despite what the Leafs TV microphone hanging from his suit jacket might have implied, and so he wasn't disappointed to miss them on Draft day. Nor was he disappointed at the prospect of leaving hockey's biggest market to live and play in one of its smaller havens.
"I think it's kind of different," Smith-Pelly says of hockey in the two cities, "In Toronto, more people are Leafs fans than hockey fans per se, and when I was down in Anaheim, a lot of people were there for the game of hockey. And I see it's growing in Southern California. [Anaheim is] a great city, and with the fan support, it's a great place to be if you want to be a hockey player."
Ultimately, though, Smith-Pelly would have been happy wherever he landed. That is just the nature of the player that he is, the degree to which he has prepared for his success and the support structure he has built around himself, a structure that includes his agent, Eustace King of O2K management, whose stable of established NHL clients was particularly helpful in preparing Smith-Pelly for the emotional roller coaster of the Draft.
"I work out with those guys: Chris Stewart, Wayne Simmonds, Anthony Stewart," Smith-Pelly says. "[I was] talking to Simmonds and the Stewarts all throughout the year and all summer before the Draft. They helped me out a lot. They all went through it [and could tell me what to expect]. It was great having those guys around. Chris Stewart was actually at the Draft with me. It was great to have him around, and it really helped when I was stressed out."
Smith-Pelly wasn't stressed long. He was walking toward the stage and the Anaheim brass before the second round was half-over. And the forward had done his homework on the Ducks, looking at their draft picks and depth chart and knowing that he had a solid shot at climbing the rungs of that organization's ladder as long as he stayed the course as an energy forward who can contribute some secondary scoring.
He showed plenty of that at Anaheim's training camp this year, lighting up the opposition at the next level while lighting the lamp on its goaltenders, so much so that one can't help but wonder if he's also competing with some of the Top Six forwards in the Ducks' cupboard. He certainly isn't opposed to the idea.
"Yeah, that would be good as well," Smith-Pelly says of his chances of being a Top Sixer at the next level, "I kind of see myself as a guy who can maybe complement two skilled forwards by creating space for them, and I feel my shot is probably one of the strongest points to my game, so any time I can use it, it's perfect."
At 18, Smith-Pelly still has a couple of years to plan for the pros, but his experience with the Ducks gives him a strong sense of where he might fit into Anaheim's future. He returns to Mississauga committed to becoming the player he needs to be at the next level, but much more focused on being a leader for his Junior team than filling his stat columns. And when asked about the one piece he wants to add to his game this year, the young forward doesn't hesitate to highlight a shortcoming.
"It's probably a lot more consistency," Smith-Pelly estimates. "Last year, I struggled with that. I'd either be really good or really bad, a couple of games really good, a couple of games really bad. This year, I'm trying to make sure I'm on my game every single night, game in and game out."
If he can find his consistency, find the ability to be a freight train with a slick shot on every shift, Devante Smith-Pelly will quickly become one of the more precious gems in the Ducks' cupboard.