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Rossi: Despres is proof of Bylsma's power

| Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Penguins defenseman Simon Despres plays in the Black and Gold game at Consol Energy Center on Jan. 16, 2013.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins defenseman Simon Despres plays in the Black and Gold game at Consol Energy Center on Jan. 16, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

Dan Bylsma is different from past Penguins coaches.

For starters, he is less than a month from his fourth consecutive year on the job. No one will have enjoyed a longer run.

Also, Bylsma clearly has a significant say in personnel decisions. Consider Simon Despres finding his way onto the Penguins' 23-man active roster Friday.

None of Despres' teammates saw that one coming.

That is no knock on Despres, a 21-year-old talent who was the 30th overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

Every defenseman on the Penguins' roster — and there are eight! — can recognize Despres is a special breed. Rare are the 6-foot-4 defensemen who skate so smoothly and move the puck as though they were born to put saucer passes onto the stick blades of striding forwards.

Still, nothing about Despres' training camp suggested he is ready for everyday NHL duty.

Nothing general manager Ray Shero said on Day 1 of camp suggested Despres was in his plans, at least initially, for the 2013 Penguins.

Shero said the Penguins would possibly keep eight defensemen. There was a presumption, fairly, that Despres would be the odd man out. After all, he could go to the AHL without having to clear waivers.

Instead, he went to Philadelphia on a charter plane Friday. Brian Strait, a third-round pick in 2006, was placed on waivers Thursday and claimed by the New York Islanders the next day.

Strait was part of Shero's original draft class, a third-round pick. The word on Strait, though a word not often spoken lately, was that he was a poor man's Rob Scuderi.

Well, now Strait can play on Long Island, where Scuderi spends his offseasons.

The word associated with Despres is “upside,” and Bylsma is clearly infatuated with it. That was true dating to the summer, when Bylsma first hinted that Despres might look good partnering with top defenseman Kris Letang.

Bylsma wanted Despres on this roster. By Tuesday, the third and final full practice with the camp roster, it was clear even to a casual observer that the Penguins would soon have a new top prospect because the current one had been ticketed for the NHL.

Despres seems ticketed for an extended stay, too.

“The intention with keeping eight (defensemen) and with Simon being part of that eight ... is to have the players that give us the best chance to win,” Bylsma said. “It's not to get a look at (a player), not to give it a try.

“We've taken a look at Simon. It's not necessarily an evaluation of the last two-and-a-half months or the last three weeks. It's the players that give us the best chance to win.”

Bylsma has won enough to have a say in picking his roster.

Shero has granted Bylsma near unprecedented power for any Penguins coach.

Despres is proof that Bylsma is not afraid to use it.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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