Simon Despres is Not Alex Goligoski
Follow me on Twitter @AndrewRothey
For the better part of the last year, many trade discussions involving the Penguins included the idea of shipping out Simon Despres. It is quite understandable why. Despite the top line’s impressive success this season, the Get-Sid-A-Winger campaign never seems to die down. While it would be foolish to think that Kunitz and Dupuis can maintain their incredible pace of recent production, the Pens do not need to overpay for an expensive rental winger. If the right deal came along for a young, long-term solution, Shero should seriously consider it (I’ve recently pushed for Chris Stewart, but he may not be as available as previously believed). Whatever offers come Shero’s way this deadline, Simon Despres should be untouchable.
Ray Shero has had great success trading young defensemen for top six forward help. He brought in Chris Kunitz and James Neal, among others, on such deals. He shipped out Ryan Whitney and Alex Goligoski, both of whom have had inconsistent performances. Whitney has had various injuries that have kept him out for huge chunks of seasons and limited his mobility. Goligoski remains a strong skating puckmover who can be an asset in the offensive zone, but he remains a liability in his own zone and lacks a physical element to his game. In 121 games with Dallas, he has scored a respectable 14 goals, 44 assists. He has not, however, developed into the high-end offensive blueliner as Dallas had hoped.
Even at the time of the trade, many Pens observers knew of Goligoski’s limitations. He would have to make great strides in his own zone to be considered a complete defenseman. He was not viewed as a player who would thrive in the more physical playoff games. But mobile defensemen with good puck skills are in demand and Shero shrewdly found a willing taker.
Simon Despres is not Alex Goligoski. He lacks the limitations that Goligoski had and is a unique talent the Pens should keep. Few players with Despres’s size (listed 6’4” and 215 lbs.) can skate as fluidly in all directions. He has shown a strong ability to join or lead the rush, most notably setting up Brandon Sutter’s OT game-winner in the 7-6 win over Montreal. Some have criticized Bylsma for sitting him against “tougher” teams and he did not have a reputation as a physical player, but he has not been shy about throwing around his considerable frame. He has a reputation as having an excellent work ethic and high hockey IQ. While he has room to improve in body and stick positioning, he has made no glaring defensive zone coverage mistakes I can recall. He will never be described as having a booming shot, but he has made strides in that regard.
The advanced metrics show that he has played against relatively weak competition (Corsi QoC of -1.713/Corsi Rel QoC of -0.622) and has had marginally favorable territorial starts (Off Zone Start of 56%). He needs to become more disciplined as he takes 1.8 penalties per 60 minutes, highest on the team. But Despres has driven possession and shot attempts as he is third on the team in both Corsi and Corsi Rel (15.61/17.9). While he has not played the toughest minutes, he’s made the most of them.
In short, as Despres develops and learns the NHL game, he will become a complete defenseman who can log big minutes and play in all situations. Although he only has 40 games under his belt, his development arc is bending upward. With the salary cap falling by about 10% next season, the Pens will need as many cheap, productive players as possible. Despres will be in the final year of his entry level contract next season.
While there have been some reports that Shero has little desire to dangle Despres (or Joe Morrow), he remains a very attractive piece to other teams. Shero would be wise to keep Despres in Pittsburgh.