Despres creating a dilemma
The Flyers dominated the Penguins in nearly ever aspect of last nights game. A flat second period spelled disaster for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins found themselves in a rare position: they had been “out-Bylsma’d” by Philadelphia.
But the story wasn’t all bad.
After 16:48 of ice time and 3 Philadelphia even strength goals, Simon Despres found himself with a +2 rating and nearly neck and neck with ice time leaders among defense for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Not bad for a guy with 12 NHL games under his belt.
It’s a testament to what Despres has done for the Penguins in the short time he’s been here. With his ice time steadily increasing, Despres is showing all of the attributes that are demanded of Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma: sound decision making, mobility, and toughness.
But let’s take a step back for a second and get some perspective on this young stud defenseman.
When Despres was drafted in 2009, the Penguins caught him on the tail end of a freefall. Despres had been ranked in the top end of the ISS top 30 eligible draftees at the start of the year, but had begun a steady decline as the year progressed, eventually landing in the final spot of the top 30 when the final ranking was issued in May.
That ranking proved to be a forecast of sorts, the Penguins were able to nab Despres with the final selection of the first round of the 2009 draft.
The knocks on Despres weren’t anything to scoff at. Many writers and scouts, myself included, questioned Despres toughness and decision making ability; two attributes that can make scouts and general managers cringe. Also, those two attributes aren’t always necessarily things that can be fixed. I surmised that it was going to be a long road to the NHL for Simon Despres.
Fast forward a few years; Despres leads a St. Johns team to a Memorial Cup, logs time for Team Canada in the World Junior Championships, and begins to systematically erase those negatives that dropped him all the way to 30th in the ISS ranking his draft year.
And after only 22 games played for the Penguins AHL affiliate, Simon Despres finds himself a key cog in the Penguins NHL machine.
Don’t get me wrong, mistakes are being made and Despres is hardly playing the perfect game on a nightly basis. That being said, those bumps are to be expected for a rookie defenseman logging major minutes in a dire injury situation.
One thing is for certain, though. Simon Despres is making it hard on Ray Shero right now.
Assuming Paul Martin and Kris Letang can return from injury relatively soon, that leaves Despres, Ben Lovejoy, and Deryk Engelland to battle for that 6th and final defensive starter position.
At this point, gauging the way the three of those players have performed, it’d be hard to send Despres packing back to the AHL.
Is it so far-fetched to think that Despres can’t handle the rigors of the NHL? We’re talking about a kid that nearly made the team outright from camp last season. Someone with a professional pedigree and massive amounts of accolades about him already.
Pedigree is the key word here. Not to knock Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland, but that pedigree is simply something they don’t have. We aren’t talking about two first round draft choices here. While each boasts a decent amount of experience and a proven ability to contribute at the NHL level, neither can match up to the ceiling that Simon Despres shows, and neither can boast the resume that he already has as a 20 year old defenseman cutting his teeth at the NHL level.
The quandary is simple. Either send Despres down and let him log top pairing minutes at the AHL level, or bite the bullet, keep him on as a 6th defenseman, and throw him straight to the wolves.
With 4 points and +4 rating in 12 games, would it be that bad of an idea?
A few key aspects of Simon Despres’ game is making this decision easier by the day.
For starters, his first step is miles ahead of where it was when he was drafted. On a nightly basis Despres is taking the puck in his defensive zone and skating it up ice on his own. The ability to get the puck north, skate it out of danger, and create the rush on your own is something that Bylsma demands on a nightly basis. The initiative that Despres shows in moving the puck shocks me game by game.
But it’s Despres toughness that might be his best improvement. Despres was never known as a physical guy. In the World Junior, he struggled with power-forwards and had issues with using the body. Not a hint of that is shown at the NHL level.
Is it time to trade one of Lovejoy or Engelland in a Letestu-type deal to get a late round pick?
Whatever the case may be, as long as our defense is depleted, I have a feeling we’ll continue to see Simon Despres show his worth game by game.