The Pittsburgh Penguins selected defenseman Simon Despres as their first overall draft pick (30th selection) in 2009. Despres has been highly touted as the next great defenseman that has the ability to skate, score and defend with the best of them. Essentially, he was the next Kris Letang in the Penguins system.
Now, to be fair, no one expected Despres to be like Olli Maatta who has burst onto the NHL scene for the Penguins as a fresh faced 19-year-old. What no one expected was the 22-year-old Despres to get passed up by the 19-year-old Maatta and play more games for the Baby Penguins in the AHL than their NHL club.
Despres has been very hot and cold as a defender for the Penguins when he has been called up to the NHL level. In past seasons his lack of confidence led to him being a healthy scratch on nearly a nightly occurrence, and head coach Dan Bylsma‘s benching Despres against “physical” teams for defensemen like Deryk Engelland and Robert Bortuzzo shows that his toughness and ability to play the tough match ups is in question by not only the head coach, but also the organization.
A lot of Penguins fans have wondered why the Penguins don’t trade Despres like they traded Ben Lovejoy to the Anaheim Ducks, but if you ask me, Despres should still be a part of the Penguins’ blue line future. Even if that isn’t in this season.
The Penguins’ solid blue line tandum of Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin are destined to be broken up after this year as Orpik’s contract expires at season’s end and there is no guarantee he returns next season. Martin has one year left on his contract after this season, and his future in Pittsburgh is also in jeopardy. Throw in the fact that Matt Niskanen could be playing his way out of Pittsburgh and there is another reason not to send Despres to another club.
Despres recently saw NHL action while Rob Scuderi, Martin and Orpik were all out due to injury, and he didn’t disappoint in his stint with the Penguins. In 18 games played, Despres did not notch a goal, but added four assists and showed the offensive prowess to be able to function on the power play, as well defensively sustain himself on the penalty kill. What haunted Despres early in his career was poor decision making with the puck and an overall lack of confidence. Despres was more confident with the puck and his decision making was much improved when exiting the zone.
Some fans are still clamoring for general manager Ray Shero to pull the plug on the Despres project, but they shouldn’t. His time spent in the AHL will do him well as he and the other young defensemen await their turn at the NHL level. Not every player can blossom at 19, and Despres still has a lot of good hockey ahead of him, hopefully all in a Penguins sweater.