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Despres may stay with Penguins for start of regular season

| Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010

On his way to what the Penguins believe could become a dominant final year in junior hockey, top prospect Simon Despres might play in the NHL.

"We haven't ruled it out," general manager Ray Shero said of the defenseman, who played his second exhibition game Tuesday against Chicago at Consol Energy Center. "He's earned this second exhibition game. It wasn't something we had scheduled for him, but he's earned it. That's pretty good."

Despres' showing at camp has proved a fascinating development. It may have bought him some time to stick around this NHL atmosphere after the next round of camp cuts, which are expected in the next couple of days.

Despres surviving those cuts and the final ones next week would be as much of a surprise as neither Ben Lovejoy nor Deryk Engelland opening the season as the Penguins' No. 6 defenseman. Those AHL veterans were considered the top candidates to fill the sixth (and seventh) slots entering camp.

Coach Dan Bylsma acknowledged Despres, 19 and the 30th pick at the 2009 draft, provided "good indications" last year with a "pretty good camp." Still, any chance at NHL action would have seemed the longest of shots when camp convened Sept. 17.

Now, well, perhaps those three-hour/500-shot sessions with a goaltending coach during the offseason paid off for Despres, whose attitude has impressed many in the organization.

"There doesn't seem to be a lot of respect given to his opponents or his teammates, and I mean that in a good way," Bylsma said. "He's ... not just handing the puck over to (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) like a young player might do."

Bylsma said Despres has graded well after the majority of practices. Despres said he found that comment encouraging.

"I'm still getting used to the speed up here, even in practice," he said.

Practices, more than the nine NHL games he could play without this season counting against his arbitration eligibility, could mean for Despres what starting the 2006-07 season meant for defenseman Kris Letang. He played in seven games that campaign before returning to star for his junior team and becoming captain of Canada's world junior squad.

"My time here, I learned how to play defense," Letang said. "That helped me play in more situations in the world junior (tournament), get more ice time. I thought I could have stayed, but going back was a good thing. Looking back, I took a lot of the things I learned here in practices and put them into my game in junior. That gave me more confidence."

Shero stressed that if Despres were sent back to juniors, his goal should be to play for the Canadian squad. Letang wants Despres, a fellow French Canadian, to lean on him this season. He pledged not to be shy about offering Despres advice — from within the Penguins' dressing room or from hundreds of miles away.

"Good," Despres said. "Kris has been through whatever I've been through. I'm excited they're giving me a chance to prove myself.

"I just want to show them something."

Additional Information:

The Simon situation

Top prospect Simon Despres played his second exhibition game for the Penguins on Tuesday night. At 19, the defenseman's professional options are limited because of an agreement between the NHL and Canadian Hockey League:

» He is eligible to play in the NHL, but appearing in more than nine games will count this season as his first toward arbitration eligibility.

» He cannot play in the AHL until his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League club, Saint John, finishes its season.

» The Penguins have no control on how he is used by his QMJHL club. However, assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald will monitor his development and communicate with Saint John officials.

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