Phoenix Coyotes v Anaheim Ducks

A player to watch: Anaheim Ducks forward Devante Smith-Pelly

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When Team Canada hosted their World Junior camp earlier this month in Alberta, it was an opportunity for the hockey world to take a look at some of the NHL’s best prospects. As usual, there were 1st round draft picks that were simply biding their time before they make their inevitable jump to the most skilled league in the world. Guys like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Johansen, and Jonathan Huberdeau aren’t going to surprise anyone—those are the guys who everyone already knows. But every year there are guys who continue to progress and raise some eyebrows, as they show they are capable of taking their game to the next level.

This year, Anaheim Ducks prospect Devante Smith-Pelly showed that he could be that player. Ever since he was drafted in the 2nd round (42nd overall), the knock on Smith-Pelly was his consistency. He’d have games where he looked like a dominant beast on the ice; then he’d have games where he completely disappeared. Over the course of last year’s OHL playoffs, it looks like he has turned the corner and taken the next step. If consistency was the only thing holding him back, then watch out.

“I think it was just me taking every game as it’s ‘the biggest game,’” Smith-Pelly shared with Pro Hockey Talk. “I know in the regular season you can take a couple of nights off. You don’t want to, but it happens. It a long season. I looked at it in the playoffs like there were no nights off and I have to play my best every night. I thought that really helped me.”

There’s an understatement. In 20 postseason games with the talented Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, Smith-Pelly led his team with 15 goals and 21 points. In fact, the 15 goals tied him for the league lead in the OHL playoffs. He continued the strong post-season with three goals, three assists, and a selection to the all-tournament team.

Even though he’s shown impressive scoring touch since he dedicated himself to becoming a more consistent player, he brings much more to the table than just goals and points. For a comparable, fans need to look no further than the other team in Southern California:

“I try to play like a guy like Dustin Brown. A guy who throws huge hits, he can score, he’s a good leader. That’s probably the main guy I try to model my game after… [laughs] although, Dustin’s an LA Kings guy, so I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that,” Smith-Pelly says.

If he can play with the energy and leadership for the Ducks that Dustin Brown brings to the Kings, Smith Pelly will be allowed to say whatever he wants.

Most players constantly have to work at their two-way game before they can be seriously considered for the NHL, but a strong two-way game is one of Smith-Pelly’s strongest attributes. He hits everything that moves, takes good angles on the forecheck, and knows how to finish when he goes to the front of the net. Surprisingly, learning to be a good two-way forward is something new for the Scarborough, Ontario native.

“Yeah, Coach [Dave] Cameron has been helping me ever since I got there to work on my defensive game,” Smith-Pelly explained. “Coming into the OHL, the minor hockey league team I play on, we never really played defense at all, so he’s helped mold me into a two-way guy. When I went back this year I really wanted to work on my two-way game and he helped me out a lot. That’s the kind of thing I need to do to be successful at the next level and I’ve just been trying to show that.”

Although Cameron has immensely helped his game in Mississauga and he impressed observers at Team Canada’s camp in Alberta earlier this month, Smith-Pelly has his sights set squarely on the NHL next season. Scouts noticed an extremely strong, physical, grinding type of right wing. If he continues to develop at the same pace, he projects as a power-forward who will be able to score 20+ goals in the league.

Adding fuel to the fire, Anaheim Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said earlier this summer that some of the promising prospects, including Smith-Pelly, will have an opportunity to make the team out of training camp this year. Whether he makes the big club this season or next, fans in Anaheim should start getting excited about the prospect they have—it looks like he’s blossoming into a good one.

On his third team in three years, Bonino has ‘found a home for sure’ in Pittsburgh

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PITTSBURGH — In Anaheim, Nick Bonino was good, but not quite good enough to be the Ducks’ second-line center. So two summers ago he was traded to Vancouver as part of a package for Ryan Kesler.

In Vancouver, Bonino had one decent enough season, but the Canucks ultimately decided he wasn’t the kind of “foundation piece” they were looking for. So last summer he was traded to Pittsburgh as part of a package for Brandon Sutter.

In Pittsburgh though?

In Pittsburgh, Nick Bonino is a playoff hero, verging on folk hero. The 28-year-old scored the winning goal in the final minutes of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. The chemistry he’s developed with linemates Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin has helped take the pressure off Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It’s given the Penguins what they’ve needed for so many years.

“He’s had some huge goals in the playoffs, come up really big,” said teammate Matt Cullen. “Obviously playing in the middle of that line, he’s been huge for us all playoffs. It just brings another element of depth to our team.”

And if you think Cullen had nice things to say about Bonino, that was nothing compared to head coach Mike Sullivan.

“I think he’s a terrific player in every aspect of the game,” said Sullivan. “We use him in so many key situations, both offensively and defensively. I think he’s a guy that has a real high hockey IQ, sees the ice really well. He has real good hands. His awareness defensively I think, the use of his stick to take passing lanes away, it’s impressive.

“He’s brave. He blocks shots. He’s one of our better shot-blockers. He’s a good faceoff guy. He’s done so much for this team to help us get to this point. I don’t know what other praise I can shower on him right now. We think he’s a terrific player.”

Signed through next season, after which he can become an unrestricted free agent, Bonino was asked if he’s finally found a long-term home in Pittsburgh.

“I don’t know about long-term, you never know. Especially me, the last few summers,” he said.

“[But] I think I found a home for sure. I enjoy the guys, enjoy the team. Organization is first class. Definitely feels nice to be in the Cup final playing with these two guys. It’s been a lot of fun for me.”

Despite rough start, the Sharks ‘know we’re going to get better’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Nick Bonino #13 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates after scoring a third period goal against Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — It’s only been one game of the Stanley Cup Final and the San Jose Sharks are already tired of hearing about the Pittsburgh Penguins’ speed.

“It’s an NHL team,” said defenseman Brent Burns. “They’re fast. So is St. Louis. It’s not like St. Louis has got boots on.”

“They’re a good rush team, they’ve got some speed, they make some plays,” captain Joe Pavelski grudgingly conceded. “I don’t know, those teams we’ve played before are pretty good. I think Nashville was probably one of the better rush teams that we saw.”

In other words, the Penguins’ speed was no big deal. Nothing new. Nothing to panic about. The Sharks can play better than they showed in Game 1, a 3-2 loss that wasn’t decided until the final few minutes.

“They definitely came out with some speed and were skating, created some chances,” said Pavelski. “But we helped that out along the way, too.”

After getting outshot 15-4 and outscored 2-0 in the first period, the Sharks fought back in the second. They cut down the turnovers, outshot the Penguins 13-8, and tied the game.

“They carried the first, obviously. We carried the second I think, and then the third was two good teams going at it,” said Burns, calling the opening 20 minutes a “Holy [expletive] we’re here” experience for a San Jose group that has never been this far in the playoffs.

“You make the Stanley Cup finals, you dream about it for a long time,” he said. “You probably used more energy the last couple of days thinking about it than playing in a game. … I think we’ll be better second game.”

Head coach Pete DeBoer agreed.

“They’re a fast team,” he said. “They dictated play in the first. I thought when we played our game in the second, they had trouble with us. It’s the first game of the series. It reminds me a lot of St. Louis Game 1. I know we’re going to get better. Our execution’s got to get better. Part of it was some of the pressure they put on, but part of it was self-inflicted.”

He added, “There’s nothing that I saw tonight that I’m going out of here thinking that we can’t come out and compete and play much better on our end.”

Sullivan calls it a ‘blindside hit to the head,’ but Marleau doesn’t think suspension’s coming

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PITTSBURGH — It didn’t take long for the first controversial incident of the Stanley Cup Final.

Patrick Marleau‘s illegal check to the head on Bryan Rust — one that earned Marleau a minor penalty, and forced Rust to exit the game — left Rust day-to-day with an upper-body injury, per Pens head coach Mike Sullivan.

When asked what he thought of the hit, Sullivan was blunt.

“It’s a blindside hit to the head,” he said. “[Marleau] gets a penalty and I’m sure the league will look at it.”

Marleau wasn’t saying much about the incident following the game, but did suggest he wasn’t expecting supplemental discipline:

“I just tried to keep everything down,” Marleau added. “I didn’t want to get too high on him.”

It’ll be interesting to see what transpires. There hasn’t been a suspension in the Stanley Cup Final since Vancouver’s Aaron Rome was given a four-game ban for his massive hit on Boston forward Nathan Horton.

Marleau has no history with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

It should be mentioned the DoPS has been fairly active this spring, handing down five suspensions, including a pair of three-gamers to Brooks Orpik and Brayden Schenn.

Bonino scores late, role guys star again as Pens take Game 1

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PITTSBURGH — If this playoff run has proven anything, it’s that the Penguins are more than Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Tonight only reaffirmed it.

Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Nick Bonino did all the scoring on Monday, with Bonino’s late marker the winner as Pittsburgh defeated San Jose 3-2 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Bonino’s goal, his fourth of the playoffs, came with just over two minutes remaining, capping off a quality opener in which both teams carried play for long stretches.

Rust and Sheary punctuated a dominant opening period for the Penguins — they out-shot the Sharks 15-4 — but the Sharks replied with a stellar second frame, equalizing on goals from Tomas Hertl and Patrick Marleau.

That set the stage for a dramatic third, and the Bonino goal.

That he, Rust and Sheary did the scoring for Pittsburgh was fitting. There’d been plenty of talk heading into this series about role players coming up large, to the point where the American Hockey League sent out a press release noting that 23 of 25 Penguins that’ve played in the playoffs thus far came through the AHL, highlighting the “big four” from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton: Rust, Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl and Matt Murray.

Rust etched himself into Pittsburgh lore in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win over the Lightning.

Murray’s exploits are pretty well-known. The 22-year-old was remarkably solid after regaining the starter’s net from Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 6 of the ECF, stopping 44 of 47 shots over the final two games of the series.

He was good again on Monday, with 24 saves on 26 shots.

Sheary, the diminutive speedster, scored his third goal of the playoffs tonight. Kuhnhackl tied a team high with five hits.

As such, Pittsburgh has to be thrilled about how tonight went. They held up home ice and got contributions from across the board — the only downer has to be the health of Rust, who twice exited the contest after taking a hit to the head from Marleau.

As for the Sharks… well, this one will sting a bit. The club did remarkably well to rally from a two-goal deficit and carried play in the second period, but can’t be pleased.

They were beaten in the possession game and out-shot badly (41-26), things head coach Peter DeBoer wanted to control against Pittsburgh, a team he considers the fastest in the league.

That said, there are positives moving forward. Martin Jones was outstanding in his Stanley Cup Final debut, with 38 saves on 41 shots, and there’s still a chance to get the split on Wednesday night.

Of course, to do that, the Sharks will have to figure out how to slow down Pittsburgh’s role players.