The Montreal Canadiens have gone from wooing Jiri Sekac to shooing him.
After outbidding a number of NHL teams for Sekac’s services last summer, the Habs dealt the 22-year-old Czech to the Anaheim Ducks for Devante Smith-Pelly, the 42nd overall pick in the 2010 draft. Sekac had seven goals in 50 games this year, while Smith-Pelly—who’s a whopping four days younger than Sekac—has tallied five times in 54 contests.
Sekac came to the Canadiens as an undrafted free agent who’d been playing in the KHL. His six-foot-two frame and sharp shot started attracting NHL attention halfway through last season and the thought was—beyond offering him a two-year, $2.9-million contract—Montreal became Sekac’s top choice because there was a legitimate opportunity to win a top-nine forward spot.
His brief time in in Quebec now has a bit of a chicken-and-egg aspect to it. Did Sekac—a frequent healthy scratch early in the year and a couple other times lately—fail to shine because he was never afforded a consistent, quality chance, or did the player simply never demonstrate enough good things to Michel Therrien to convince the coach he deserved a key role?
Whatever the case, the Canadiens had obviously seen enough of Sekac to feel comfortable moving a guy who, at times, seemed like he had the potential to help the club with it’s goal-scoring troubles. As with many Europeans making their North American debut, there was a sense the grind of the NHL schedule may have caught up with Sekac.
"He’s a real good player," said an NHL scout who saw a lot of Sekac last year. "I think he’s a young player who hasn’t figured out he NHL pace yet."
The scout was a touch concerned with how Sekac will adapt to the bigger, tougher Western Conference.
"I think he’ll have a harder time in Anaheim," he said.
The difficulty for Smith-Pelly—who averaged 14:39 of ice time per game this year—in Southern California was that the team already had a lot of players in his strong, 220-lbs. mold. While the member of Canada’s 2012 world junior team doesn’t figure to significantly improve Montreal’s offensive woes—Smith-Pelly wasn’t really a big producer at the major junior level—he offers a number of things the Canadiens can bank on.
First off, the team really wanted another right-shot winger. And, of course, the slight Habs are always on the lookout for players who can bring a hard-nosed approach and add a little nasty to their lineup.
"Now he’s going to get a chance because Montreal doesn’t have a lot of those guys," said the scout, who gives a slight edge in the trade to the Canadiens.
These days, giving the benefit of the doubt on transactions to Montreal GM Marc Bergevin is a wise approach. He’s already made two shrewd cost-cutting moves this season and this deal—while aimed at helping the team on the ice—will also save Montreal roughly half-a-million bucks against a potentially falling salary cap next year.
The fear from a Habs perspective is once Sekac fully adjusts to life in the league, he could become the 20-goal scorer a team currently ranked 23rd in goals-per game could really use. That said, it’s a gamble Bergevin was willing to make in return for a player who also doesn’t have a huge body of work at the NHL level, and will at the very least make Montreal a bit meaner.