Penguins' Despres picks up playing time piecemeal
WASHINGTON — Simon Despres does not need to play for the Penguins.
Not Tuesday at the New York Islanders. Not Thursday against the Washington Capitals at Consol Energy Center.
At any point, without risk of losing him on a waiver claim, the Penguins can place Despres with AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
That is the reality facing their most promising young defenseman since Kris Letang.
That fantasy is far more interesting.
In it, Despres gradually grows into his top-six role and, even as a rookie, is primed to contribute when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin in late April.
“Our responsibility is to help grow this guy into the projection he was when our guys scouted him,” said Tom Fitzgerald, the Penguins assistant to the general manager.
“That projection wasn't to fail. It was to make a mark.”
Despres, the 30th overall pick of the 2009 Entry Draft, has played fewer than 13 minutes in two of three games.
Only twice over the past four contests has he played more than 18 minutes. His low total for the season is 8 minutes, 46 seconds.
Coach Dan Bylsma is not intentionally testing Despres. Still, this offbeat rhythm is a test of his mental makeup.
“I'm just trying to get better with each game, more comfortable and play good hockey,” Despres said.
Kris Letang, the Penguins' top defenseman, played only 10 regular-season games in the AHL before a permanent promotion in 2007. Aside from the 2008 Cup Final, during which he appeared in just two games, Letang has been a defensive fixture for the Penguins.
Letang is a believer that some players progress quickly playing more often against the best competition.
Despres and Letang are French Canadians, but their most common trait might be skill that trumps inexperience, Bylsma suggested.
“There is talk among players that it is harder to play there (AHL),” Bylsma said. “That doesn't make a lot of sense because there's not a (New Jersey Devils captain Ilya) Kovalchuk down in Albany.
“But there is a learning curve that comes with playing in the AHL, for defensemen in particular, that when you play in the NHL, some of those mistakes and the way the game is played, you have more support from the players around you and with position of your teammates.
“With Simon Despres, you have to go through those learning experiences — and we've seen this with Kris and Alex Goligoski, other good defensemen we've had — he is still learning. He still needs some consistency to his game, and he's still in that process.”
The Penguins, winners of three in a row, seem prepared to take a long ride with Despres. They are expecting a bumpy ride, especially early.
“In-and-out of the lineup might not be a bad thing for Simon,” Fitzgerald said, stressing Despres can benefit from a truncated NHL schedule that differs from an AHL slate heavy with weekend games.
“You have to inject your young talent into your lineup, and we feel real strong about protecting our guys. He will not be put in a situation to fail.”
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins forward Hornqvist out for several weeks
- Penguins captain Crosby looking for some answers to goal drought
- Ex-Penguin Orpik: It was time for change
- Orpik, Niskanen greeted warmly by Penguins fans
- Ex-Penguin Niskanen feeling pressure to live up to $40M contract in Washington
- Penguins’ Comeau to miss ‘several weeks’
- Hobbled Penguins go quietly in loss to Capitals