Despres back to AHL as Penguins defense corps continues to get healthy
By Rob Rossi
Published: Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, 10:03 p.m.
Simon Despres just wants to play some defense.
On the surface, getting Despres ice time, even at practices, is significant in Penguins general manager Ray Shero's decision to re-assign the defenseman to the AHL on Thursday.
“We've got a lot of depth,” Despres said.
The Penguins are not blessed with opportunities for even their best prospects when the defense is near full strength. So Despres and forwards Nick Drazenovic and Pierre-Luc Letorneau-LeBlond were sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Drazenovic and Letorneau-Leblond had spent only part of this week with the Penguins. Despres had spent almost two months in the NHL.
However, after playing in 15 consecutive games from Nov. 27-Dec. 27, Despres appeared in only three of the past eight contests, and he was used as a fourth-line winger during a practice this week because of a suddenly crowded defense corps.
That crowd will grow this weekend when Paul Martin, out almost two months with a broken tibia, returns to practice. Martin's return to games, perhaps next week, will give the Penguins their projected top-four defensemen in the lineup for only a third game, presuming no injuries to Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi.
Despres was one of eight defensemen — counting Deryk Engelland, who is on a second stint as a fourth-line winger — on the 23-man roster as of Wednesday.
Despres was the only one of those defensemen who did not need to clear waivers for an AHL assignment.
Coach Dan Bylsma prefers no more than seven healthy defensemen at once because practices are not designed to work with four pairings. A seventh defenseman can rotate with the third pairing.
Bylsma believes that a young defenseman — Despres is only 22 — does not develop properly if he is an eighth defenseman for an NHL club. Robert Bortuzzo barely played last season as the No. 8, but Bylsma has said the biggest challenge for Bortuzzo was getting enough work during practices.
Despres, who began this season in the AHL, will resume his role as a top-four defenseman and prime penalty killer with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
The 30th overall pick at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Despres remains viewed by some within the organization as a potential shutdown defenseman at the highest level.
“Simon is definitely on the right track,” said Tom Fitzgerald, assistant to the general manager who oversees organizational prospect development.
“We've all seen games of his in the NHL where it's like, ‘Look how good he's been tonight.' We've also seen games where it's like, ‘Well, he's going to get there with some more help.' ”
Though Despres' AHL assignment is circumstantial, his stock is not high with the coaching staff.
Improved off-ice work habits and defensive focus that were evident during his season-opening stretch in the AHL did not carry over to his extended NHL opportunity. Also, coaches were disappointed with his response — pouting — in the days after he was a healthy scratch Dec. 29.
That reaction contrasted with one from rookie Olli Maatta, who was the first Penguins player at practice the day after his first NHL scratching Dec. 31. Coaches graded Maatta, 19, as the Penguins' best defensemen in his next game.
Maatta is the player about whom Shero expects to field the most offers in upcoming trade talks, but Despres has become the defenseman he is believed to be most willing to part with before the March 5 deadline.
Shero has moved a young defenseman — either a prospect or a player from the roster — at or just before the deadline in four of his seven previous seasons.
Shero is seeking to upgrade the third line, which Bylsma said has lacked an identity, and to possibly replace injured Pascal Dupuis (torn ACL), a top-line right winger likely out for the season.
The Penguins currently are holding their amateur scouting meetings in Las Vegas.
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.
- Analysis: Kesler still on Pens’ radar as Shero aims to bring back ‘Big 3’
- Penguins GM Shero’s deadline deals: Addition by subtraction
- Penguins minor league report: Defenseman Dumoulin optimistic for home stretch
- Penguins notebook: Fleury feeling sharp entering tough stretch
- Sharks praise ex-teammate, newest Penguins player Goc
- Trade to Penguins caps frenetic period for winger Stempniak
- Penguins notebook: Maatta leaves lasting impression with Selanne
- Penguins’ Letang reveals scary details of stroke
- Penguins notebook: Kennedy struggling to find net in San Jose