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.

Report: Panthers want Jagr back (just for less money)

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Jaromir Jagr made $4 million with the Florida Panthers last season. The team wants him back in 2017-18, but at least a mild discount, according to the Miami Herald’s George Richards.

Ultimately, the Panthers may remain the best fit for the 45-year-old, although it would be awfully interesting to see what kind of interest Jagr would draw if he truly put “feelers” out there.

Jagr saw a reduction in production last season, generating 16 goals and 46 points after a spellbinding 27-goal, 66-point campaign in 2015-16.

(He actually seemed to rotate such years, as he had 47 points in 2014-15 after generating 67 in 2013-14).

Of course, beyond the production, Jagr brings name recognition. He also continues to chase history; Jagr currently ranks third all-time in goals (765), with at least an outside chance to be the third NHL player to cross the 800-goal mark. Jagr may also want to boost his second all-time points mark of 1,914 to 2,000.

For a team struggling for relevance (not to mention a clear direction), having a box office draw isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Sorting out Jagr’s situation isn’t the only key decision for (reinstated?) Panthers GM Dale Tallon, who gets to assert his viewpoint on a team with about $20 million in cap space. Then again, for the Panthers, there’s always the battle between cap space and their actual budget.

Will Jagr be worth the money? Could he leave for greener pastures? It likely won’t be long before we get some answers.

Report: Kings among several teams in contact with Joe Thornton

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Yesterday, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported 12 teams were in contact with San Jose’s Joe Thorton who, on Saturday, will become an unrestricted free agent.

Now, it’s been revealed that one of those teams is also one of San Jose’s biggest rivals — the Los Angeles Kings.

Per LA Kings Insider, the Kings have “been in contact” with Thornton, who just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M average annual cap hit.

More:

On top of Thornton’s abilities are his relationships with key figures in Los Angeles’ front office. He played with Kings General Manager Rob Blake in San Jose, while Senior Advisor to the General Manager/Development Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager when he played in Boston.

On top of these relationships, Thornton also remains very close with Glen Murray, a figure in Los Angeles’ player development, and I’m told the two, who played together with the Bruins for three and a half seasons, regularly communicate.

LeBrun reported that staying with the Sharks remains Thornton’s No. 1 option, but it’s pretty clear interest in him is sky-high — and coming from a number of different places.

Los Angeles has been making moves to clear cap space, recently buying out the remainder of defenseman Matt Greene’s contract. The Kings also lost blueliner Brayden McNabb to Vegas at the expansion draft.

What happens with Marian Gaborik‘s $4.875M cap hit remains to be seen. The veteran winger underwent an offseason procedure for a “chronic” knee issue and, depending on his recovery, could open the year on long-term injured reserve.

Thornton would give L.A. a formidable one-two punch at center along with Anze Kopitar (and a truly formidable 1-2-3 punch with Kopitar and Jeff Carter, for that matter). It’s also worth noting that as he’s gotten longer in the tooth, Thornton has successfully platooned as a winger — most notably during San Jose’s Stanley Cup run in 2016.

Update: The Kings are the most interesting team connected to Thornton thanks to their location and status as San Jose’s rival, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman notes some other interesting suitors: the Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, and New York Rangers.

5. He’s staying low profile — and there is serious doubt he actually wants to leave San Jose — but there is a list of teams who want to peer inside Joe Thornton’s head. At the draft, there was a lot of talk it would take a three-year deal to lure him. Potential suitors include Columbus, Los Angeles, Montreal and the Rangers. I could see Toronto having interest, but I’m not certain. There was a time Detroit appealed to him, but it doesn’t seem right now for either side. It looks like San Jose is closing in on extensions for Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (both can be announced on Saturday), so we’re all waiting to see what is left for Thornton and/or Patrick Marleau. I’m really fascinated by the Blue Jackets, who are going all-in over the next two years and will try something big. Toronto is quieter about its intentions, but don’t forget that Mike Babcock has plenty of Team Canada history with both Marleau and Thornton.

Friedman also makes passing mention of Thornton eventually leaving for Switzerland. Interesting stuff.

Busy Blackhawks bring back Pokka, reportedly let Rasmussen walk

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A busy off-season for the Chicago Blackhawks continued with some smaller moves that may still surprise some.

The eyebrow-raiser, at least in some quarters, came when the Blackhawks decided not to hand Dennis Rasmussen a qualifying offer, thus allowing the 26-year-old forward to hit free agency. That news comes from The Athletic’s Scott Powers.

Rasmussen played in 68 games last season (along with three playoff contests), receiving almost 12 minutes of ice time per night. Both were examples of him seeing more of a role in his second year with Chicago.

Still, he didn’t put up big numbers at either the AHL or NHL level, so apparently the Blackhawks decided to spring him free. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports that the team might have soured on Rasmussen after he rejected an offer for a contract extension back in March.

Powers also notes that Ville Pokka was signed to a one-year deal, opening the door for him to possibly make Chicago’s roster.

These developments aren’t likely to add to what’s already been a frustrating off-season for Joel Quenneville in particular, but this still lines up with a pattern of changes. In the latest edition of “30 Thoughts,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman shares some details of Coach Q’s irritation:

21. Joel Quenneville was at the draft Saturday after not appearing on Friday. He stormed out of a coach’s meeting — in full view of reporters — as news broke of the Chicago trades. It would have been very tough for him to lose Hjalmarsson, one of the NHL’s underappreciated great players.

Quenneville’s cage was already rattled by the firing of assistant Mike Kitchen, so here’s hoping he at least signed off on these latest moves.

Report: Red Wings grant Coyotes permission to interview Todd Nelson

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There’s some activity as far as the Arizona Coyotes’ coaching situation goes, and soon there may be some answers.

As noted during the weekend, the Coyotes were interested in speaking with Todd Nelson, who most recently coached the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings’ AHL affiliate) to a Calder Cup victory. The Red Wings granted Arizona permission to interview Nelson, according to the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James.

(Red Wings fans are greeting this news with despair.)

It’s not the only noteworthy development, either, as the Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan reports that the Coyotes parted ways with associate coach Jim Playfair today. (The Coyotes confirmed the news moments after this post went up.)

This is a time of change for this organization, and some are bristling at the way they’re handling things. Still, there’s also an argument that the team is ultimately making wise choices, and Nelson could end up being a big part of that.

Assuming they convince him to come on board, of course.