By Thomas Harrington
One year ago today, the Anaheim Ducks traded forward Devante Smith-Pelly to the Montreal Canadiens for Jiri Sekac. A year later, it’s fair to say that this is a trade that did not work out for Anaheim, as the Ducks picked up Sekac to try and give them some more offensive punch. The hope was that Sekac would slot in to one of the top lines and help out on the left wing, a spot notoriously weak in Anaheim in recent years. Barring that, hopefully he would at least fit in on the third line and contribute some secondary offense to the team. None of that happened and he was recently traded to Chicago for Ryan Garbutt.
The Ducks had selected Smith-Pelly 42nd overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Smith-Pelly made his NHL debut in the 2011-2012 season and played in 49 games for Anaheim. He scored seven goals for the Ducks, which is still his career high. Smith-Pelly had a slow start to his NHL career, only scoring three goals in the first few months of the season. The decision was made to send him to the World Juniors to play for Team Canada and let him dominate in the tournament. In his first game of the World Juniors, Smith-Pelly broke his foot blocking a shot and missed the rest of the tournament. He got healthy and returned to Anaheim’s lineup in late February, having missed about a month and a half of NHL action. He scored four more goals to finish off the season, as the Ducks missed the playoffs. The following season was the NHL lockout, so Smith-Pelly spent most of his time in the AHL, playing for the Norfolk Admirals. He appeared in 65 games and scored 14 goals and 32 points for the Admirals. He was also recalled and appeared in seven games for the Ducks and went scoreless in them. In the 2013-14 season, Smith-Pelly spent most of the season in the AHL again, but that was primarily because of the number of players in Anaheim. He got a lot of playing time early in the season when the Ducks were going through some injury issues, but stayed in the AHL after that until the end of the season. Overall, he appeared in 19 games for Anaheim and scored two goals and 10 points. With the Admirals, he scored 27 goals and 43 points in 55 games.
It was in the playoffs where Smith-Pelly had his breakout performance. He led the Ducks in goal scored with five. He went scoreless through most of the first round, but became the hero in game six against Dallas. He scored in the first period, but it was in the third where he had his big moment of the playoffs. The Ducks trailed the Stars by two late in the game, but with just over two minutes left in the game Nick Bonino brought the Ducks back to within one. Then, with the goalie pulled and less than 30 seconds left, Smith-Pelly tied the game, which the Ducks won in overtime when Bonino scored again as well. Against Los Angeles, Smith-Pelly took on a bigger role, playing more minutes in almost every single game than he did in any against Dallas. He was rewarded with top line time next to Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and scored three goals against the Ducks’ crosstown rivals. If not for some amazing saves from Jonathan Quick, he could easily have doubled his goal scoring output in that series.
The following season, the hope was that Smith-Pelly would continue his upward ascent and saw more time with Getzlaf and Perry. Smith-Pelly had a good start to the season, scoring three goals in October, but he failed to find the back of the net once in November. He only scored two more goals as a Duck, one in December and one in January. The brief flashes of brilliance that had been seen in the playoffs the year before had not carried over.
It was starting to look like Smith-Pelly was going to settle in as a bottom six forward, which was fine. He likes to hit and does have a scoring touch, but the Ducks had a number of players on their roster and in their farm system who could fit a similar description. The decision was made to trade him to try and bring in a player who could help the team out with scoring as the playoffs approached.
Before signing in Montreal during the summer of 2014, Sekac had spent several years playing in the KHL. At the time of his signing, it was reported that as many as 12 teams were interested in his services. After signing with the Canadiens, Sekac had a bit of a rough start to his career, scoring once in October and being scratched a number of times early in the season as he tried to find a place for himself in the lineup. He played in more games in November, but his ice time was all over the map–some nights playing just over 10 minutes and some nights playing nearly 20. In December, his playing time was much more consistent, playing around 14 or 15 minutes most nights, and he had his first career two goal game against the Kings. The new year saw his playing time bounce back and forth again, and he failed to record a goal in 2015 with Montreal. Overall, he played in 50 games for Montreal and scored seven goals and 16 points. For years, the Habs have been known as a small, skilled team without a lot of size. Sekac isn’t small, but doesn’t play a physical game. They decided to move him to bring in a more physical player.
This was a one for one trade. No other players, prospects, or picks were involved, and no salary was retained by either team. Both teams got what they wanted. Anaheim picked up a player with more skill and Montreal got a player with more grit. Montreal also hoped that Smith-Pelly would regain his playoff form from the previous year. However, for the Ducks, Sekac just never really fit in. Smith-Pelly has done a better job in Montreal, but hasn’t lit the world on fire.
In Montreal, Smith-Pelly received primarily bottom six minutes and played in 20 games to close out the season, scoring one goal and three points. In the playoffs, Smith-Pelly appeared in all 12 playoff games for the Canadiens, but only scored one goal, a drop off from his five goals in 12 games the year before.
This season, Smith-Pelly has been a part of an up and down Montreal team. To start the season, the Canadiens looked like the runaway President’s Trophy winners. Currently, they are fighting for their playoff lives. Smith-Pelly has appeared in 44 games and scored five goals and 11 points. He has missed 16 out of Montreal’s 60 games so far this season. Once again, he’s been primarily receiving bottom six minutes and looks like that’s the kind of player he’ll end up being. Smith-Pelly hasn’t been great for Montreal, but has continued to be a serviceable NHL player for them.
When Sekac arrived in Anaheim, he didn’t have a big impact right away. It took him a while to fit into the lineup as he was tried on a multitude of lines and was scratched some nights. Overall, he appeared in 19 games for the Ducks and scored two goals and seven points.
In the playoffs, Sekac was scratched through the first two rounds. Against the big and physical Winnipeg Jets, the Ducks opted to go with a more physical lineup. After sweeping them, the Ducks went with the same lineup against Calgary. However, against Chicago, a much more highly skilled team with good speed, the Ducks decided to bring Sekac into the lineup. He appeared in all seven games of the series and played well in limited minutes in the bottom six. He didn’t help the secondary scoring but didn’t make any egregious errors.
To start this season, the hope was that Sekac would take that step forward and become a full time top six NHL forward. However, Sekac, along with the rest of Anaheim’s roster, had a big issue with finding the back of the net to start the season. He scored one goal through the first month of the season and then got injured in early November, not returning to the lineup until mid-December. After returning to the lineup, he just never really fit in. His ice time was steadily decreased and he was a healthy scratch more often than not. The Ducks decided to move on from him and sent him to Chicago.
It’s safe to say that this is a trade the Ducks lost. They were hoping to get a player to help out with their secondary scoring, if not fit in on one of their top two lines and contribute to the primary scoring. That didn’t happen as Sekac just never really fit in. They gave up a young player who looks to be a bottom six player for his career.
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