Earlier in the week, the Pittsburgh Penguins recalled forward Brian Gibbons and defenseman Simon Despres from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Pens’ AHL affiliate. Gibbons will attempt to fill the scoring void left by the absence of Pascal Dupuis and Beau Bennett, but there will be many more eyes on the play of Despres.
The Penguins have three games remaining before the trade deadline on Mar. 5, and general manager Ray Shero should be looking to find a new home for Despres.
Over the last three seasons, Despres has bounced back and forth between the AHL and NHL, compiling 69 total games in the NHL since he entered the league in 2010. He has proven that he can be an asset to any team needing a strong third or fourth defenseman on the roster, and the Penguins have more than enough depth on the back end to cover his departure.
The fact of the matter is the Penguins need to find a versatile forward to replace Dupuis on the top line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz.
If the Penguins want to be successful come playoff time, their top two lines need to be clicking. The third and fourth lines are solid in the defensive zone and are crucial to the penalty kill, but neither line is a legitimate scoring threat.
The second line – consisting of Jussi Jokinen, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal – has been on a tear this season, and they will continue to get better as the playoffs approach. If the Penguins can trade Despres in return for a rental forward for the rest of this season, the first line will be even scarier.
Head coach Dan Bylsma has attempted to replace Dupuis with Tanner Glass and Gibbons as of late, but neither one has been able to make the same impact alongside Crosby and Kunitz.
Pittsburgh leads the NHL in total man games lost. While it was difficult to play without some of their key players, they showed the rest of the league how deep the organization is as a whole. At one point, Matt Niskanen was the only top-six defenseman who was healthy and the Pens were still winning.
Despres is only 22-years-old, and with as much NHL experience as he has there aren’t many teams that would be able to afford to let him go for a rental forward. Fortunately for Pittsburgh fans, the Penguins can.
Even with the absence of Kris Letang and the recent news that Paul Martin broke his hand in Sochi and will be out 4-6 weeks, it wouldn’t be too difficult to replace Despres.
Bylsma can simply move Deryk Engelland from forward back to defense, making him the sixth defenseman alongside Niskanen, Olli Maatta, Brooks Orpik, Robert Bortuzzo and Rob Scuderi.
If the Penguins are going to be a serious Stanley Cup contender, they are going to need to trade for a forward who can contribute on the first line with Crosby and Kunitz. If Despres shines in the next few games, don’t be surprised to see him shipped out of Pittsburgh in exchange for a rental forward.