Penguins young defenseman Despres is looking for NHL staying power
By Josh Yohe
Published: Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, 9:36 p.m.
Simon Despres is back.
Will he finally stick? Will he be used as trade bait? Will he make yet another trip to the American Hockey League?
Despres doesn't know the answer, but his teammates certainly appear to believe in him.
Almost five years after being selected by the Penguins in the first round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Despres figures to see steady playing time during the next month because of ailments suffered by Kris Letang (stroke) and Paul Martin (broken hand).
“I think he's ready,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said.
The Penguins are unsure if Letang will be available again this season. Should the Penguins be without Letang and any other defenseman in the playoffs, Despres could become valuable.
Defenseman Rob Scuderi, who left the Penguins for Los Angeles days after Despres was drafted, said he has been impressed.
“The physical talent is there. The skill set is there,” Scuderi said. “He can make every play that you'd like a skilled defenseman to make. He's got the physical skills and one-on-one skills to impose his will on guys.”
Despres has seldom hurt the Penguins when he's in the lineup. He has played in 66 NHL games, and the Penguins' record in those contests is 50-16.
However, Despres has found ways to frustrate the Penguins' coaching staff. Assistant coach Todd Reirden's tone, however, suggested Monday that a new, improved — and more mature — Despres has landed with the Penguins.
“We were real happy to add Simon back to our roster,” Reirden said. “His play in the American league speaks for itself. He's gone down with a great attitude and a commitment to playing Penguins hockey. All the reports — and we've had quite a few of them during the Olympic break — were very strong for him to be the first guy who gets called up here.”
Niskanen is aware of the expectations faced by a first-round draft pick who happens to be a defenseman.
“It's not easy,” he said. “Simon is still so young. People forget that.”
Despres, 22, has been dominant at the AHL level this season. In 34 games, he produced a team-best plus-18 mark while scoring six goals and 22 points.
Despres, who has come to training camp out of shape and whose occasional sulking has earned trips to the minor leagues, has impressed the coaching staff and his teammates with his defensive play. The offensive side of hockey comes naturally to Despres, but the Penguins insisted before this season that he exclusively focus on defense in Wilkes-Barre. He has done that, to positive reviews.
“I've wanted to work on my defensive game, to be a smarter player,” Despres said. “Just trying to make plays when they're there. I'm trying to get better at every aspect.”
He said he believes he has improved and is about to get an opportunity to prove it. Penguins defensemen Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and Deryk Engelland are unrestricted free agents this summer. All three don't figure to return. Now could represent the time for Despres to state his case as an NHL regular.
“He's shown flashes of brilliance,” Niskanen said. “He's got size and speed. Those are two good things to have. He's got that ability to skate the puck out of trouble. He just needs to learn to be a pro, and I think he's getting there.”
So, too, does Despres.
“I'm happy to be here,” he said. “And I'm ready to play.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.
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.
- Trade to Penguins caps frenetic period for winger Stempniak
- Penguins notebook: Maatta leaves lasting impression with Selanne
- Penguins stave off Ducks’ shooting barrage to win in shootout
- Dupuis’ absence taking toll on Penguins’ production
- Penguins fail to land star center Kesler at NHL trade deadline
- Penguins notebook: Kennedy struggling to find net in San Jose
- Sharks praise ex-teammate, newest Penguins player Goc