Penguins minor league report: Despres embracing opportunity in AHL
WILKES-BARRE — Unless he's putting on a happy face when cameras and microphones are at his locker stall, defenseman Simon Despres isn't taking his latest demotion to the minor leagues personally.
“I definitely would love to be in the NHL right now, but if that means being in the stands every three games, every two games, I'd rather be here playing and developing as a player and helping the team win,” Despres said. “I like the game. I like to play hockey.”
Despres isn't just playing hockey for the Baby Pens. He's playing extraordinarily well.
Despres has six goals, two assists and a plus-14 rating in his past 10 AHL games, and he has posted those numbers while playing tough minutes on the team's top shutdown pair with Philip Samuelsson. Of his 14 points this season, just one assist came on the power play.
“The way he's produced offense is probably more important than the offense he's produced,” coach John Hynes said. “He hasn't been leading the rush. He hasn't been carrying the puck end to end.”
If there's any dissatisfaction with the way the 22-year-old first-round pick is developing, it isn't coming from Wilkes-Barre.
“The key point is he's improving, and he's a better player than he was last year, and he's a better player than he was at the beginning of this year,” Hynes said. “It's about patience. Every person's different in their own development. For him, it's just mental maturity. That sometimes takes a little bit longer than the physical stuff.”
With a goal, four assists and a plus-6 rating in three games last weekend, Samuelsson was named AHL Player of the Week on Monday. He's the first Baby Pens defenseman to win the award since John Slaney did it twice in 2000.
Samuelsson's bread and butter is still stay-at-home defense, but the 17 points he has put up in 38 games this season are already a career high.
“I feel like I'm seeing the ice better and I'm making quicker decisions,” he said. “Anytime you're thinking fast, you're giving yourself the best chance to make better plays.”
Goalie Peter Mannino, who was suspended in November after refusing an assignment to the ECHL, has decided to report to the Wheeling Nailers after all.
Mannino is a 29-year-old veteran of five pro seasons and six NHL games. His return gives the organization a fifth goalie should injuries strike.
Minnesota-Mankato center Teddy Blueger, the Penguins' second-round pick in the 2012 draft, was involved in a rare college hockey line brawl last weekend.
Blueger, a 6-foot, 185-pound sophomore from Latvia, was ridden into the boards by Ferris State winger Justin DeMartino after getting a shot on goal in the third period of a Jan. 18 game. A scuffle ensued, during which Blueger exchanged blows with Ferris State goalie C.J. Motte.
Blueger, who is fifth on the team with 13 points in 24 games, received a game misconduct and an automatic one-game suspension.
Jonathan Bombulie has covered the Baby Pens for the Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre since the team's inception in 1999. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.