I think most New Jersey Devils fans would agree that one of the better in-season moves that Ray Shero made was trading former first rounder and fringe NHLer Stefan Matteau for 23 year old Devante Smith-Pelly, who has played games in the NHL almost since he was drafted, and has played consistently at the NHL level over the past two seasons. DSP has been a revelation since coming to the red and black, scoring 7 goals and 5 assists in 17 games for the club. Over the course of an 82 game season, that equates to almost 60 points, with over 30 goals. That would be Kyle Palmieri-esque numbers.
Of course, 17 games does not make an entire season, and his stats before coming here are not particularly great. In his 66 total games with Montreal, dating back to last season, he had 7 goals and 8 assists total. In Anaheim before that, he had 5 goals and 12 assists in 59 games in 2014-15 before being traded to Montreal. Those are not stellar numbers at all, especially considering he has already tied his goal output in NJ that he had north of the border. Plus, he spent way more time in the NHL before coming to the Devils, and for the large majority of his time, he was not the stellar point producer that he has been here so far. So is his play here a product of a better fit for him that will blossom him into a great player, or is it simply a hot streak? That is what Ray Shero and company need to figure out this offseason when addressing him as a restricted free agent.
There is evidence to possibly point both ways as well. On the side of "it was just a streak, he's actually not this good," he scored 9 points in his first 7 games with New Jersey. Since, he has scored only 3 points in 10 games. That is much more like his career average than the first 9 games. If he was just hot after coming over here, and has dropped back down to his normal levels of production, then he is not worth more than a small contract befit someone you think could turn into a third liner at best. Perhaps like a Jacob Josefson-type contract.
On the other side, DSP was not given great minutes or quality linemates before coming here. The Devils have mostly played him on the top 6. He has played the majority of minutes with Adam Henrique as his center, and generally Joseph Blandisi on the other side. Having Henrique as your center is almost certainly a jump up from a fourth liner elsewhere, and Blandisi is not a bad guy to play along with. In Montreal, he spent most of his time with Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn, who are bottom 6 guys. He did get some playing time with Tomas Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk, but not enough to make a significant difference in his numbers. Those numbers you see from Montreal are mostly from his time as a bottom 6 guy playing with other bottom 6 guys. Perhaps all he needed was some time with better players on a scoring line. If he can score like a second liner or better, the Devils will not hesitate to play him there. This team needs all the scoring it can get, and if he can do it, he will get time there to prove that he can consistently do it.
I personally think it is more of a hot streak that has made DSP seem like an amazing player here, but I also do feel that the Devils got the better end of the deal. He does have the potential to be better than his numbers. Remember, he is only 23 years old and has much time to improve. Henrique is still improving, and he is 3 years older than DSP.
So, given that information, what should Ray Shero do this offseason? That will be a great question, and something to watch. Can you really pay him based on his production over 18 games that he will have played in the red and black? I don't think that's realistic, but there has to be some account taken for his successes while here.
If I had to take a guess, which I might as well do here since that is where this is all headed, I would say that he will get a decent raise over the $800 thousand he is making this year, but I would not expect too big of a raise. I would offer a show me contract that would give him a decent raise to keep him happy and to meet the value he potentially has for this team, but I would not go heavy on the length. For all we know, he could go back to being a marginal point producer next season, which would lower his value and would really cement him as a fourth line type of player for his career. He knows that his time is now. If he continues to improve over the next contract he gets, he could be in line for quality playing time and good money in the future. But he has to do it now.
Because of this knowledge, I think that DSP would also be open to a shorter contract. He will not be paid significantly in this contract, maybe in the $1-1.5 million range, and if he drops 40+ points next season, his value will go higher than that. So the desire for a shorter contract could very well be on both sides, especially if DSP wants to bet on himself. Therefore, if I were betting on it, I would expect to see a contract in the 2-3 year range, again for around $1-1.5 million per year. A short contract like that could also keep him as a RFA as well after the contract ends, which would be of great benefit to New Jersey, as they would maintain his rights at the end of the deal like they have now. Another reason to keep it short.
In conclusion, the real important thing is that he gets it done on the ice, perhaps tonight, and especially next season and the season after. At 23 he still hast time to grow and develop and become a better player, but as a forward, that time is shorter than if he were playing defense. As we saw with Jacob Josefson, we now know who he is basically as a player despite the fact that he is only 25 years old. Unlike Henrique, who blossomed as he hit his mid-20s, JJ did not. He may come back as well, but it will be with the knowledge that he will mostly be a 3rd line center and no more. DSP is not limited in that regard yet. He has this contract to prove that he is growing into a consistent top 6 threat. He has shown a flash of that since coming to NJ, but he needs to prove it now. And as Devils fans, we should be rooting for him to succeed as much as possible. Success for him means success for the team, and the Devils could certainly use another success story like Kyle Palmieri.
What are your thoughts about what the Devils will do about Devante Smith-Pelly in the offseason? Do you have the same train of thought that I do about a potential contract, or do you feel differently about it? Do you think that his production with the Devils this season was courtesy of a hot streak or because of increased opportunity in the top 6? Do you think that he will be able to grow and become a consistent threat, or do you expect that he will end up being no more than a bottom 6 guy in the NHL? Please leave your thoughts below, and thanks for reading.