Penguins go for defense first
Stanley Cup champions take Despres, a 6-4 defenseman
Saturday, June 27, 2009
By Dave Molinari, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
MONTREAL -- Simon Despres widely was regarded as one of the best defensemen available in the 2009 NHL entry draft.
The Penguins obviously agreed, which is why they chose him last night when he was still available at the end of the opening round. Indeed, they had projected him as a middle-of-the-first-round selection.
What they do not necessarily go along with is the perception that he is strictly a defensive defenseman.
Not because they have any particular concerns about how Despres, who is 6 feet 3 1/2, 205 pounds, plays in his own zone, but because they feel he has untapped offensive abilities.
"I would hope that at some point he can chip in [offensively], and at least be a No. 3 or 4 defenseman at some point," said Jay Heinbuck, their director of amateur scouting.
Despres, who had two goals and 30 assists in 66 games with St. John in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2008-09, said flatly that, "I think I have offensive potential."
When asked what area of his game needs the most work, he responded: "I have to shoot more."
The NHL's Central Scouting Bureau ranked him the No. 8 prospect among North American forwards and defensemen, and Chris Bordeleau of Central Scouting offered this assessment of Despres:
"He's got the size and mobility. I've seen him many games, and he never seems to make a bad play. He's never going to get 100 points, but, definitely, when you want a guy to play defense, he's your guy. He does it all, he'll block shots and he moves the puck at the right time."
The Penguins sufficiently were impressed that they rejected several offers to trade the No. 30 pick, which they used on Despres.
"Our scouts really liked him and wanted to stick with the pick and take him," general manager Ray Shero said. "I actually tried to talk them out of it, just to make sure [the scouts] wanted him."
Even though the Penguins had been impressed by him for quite a while, Despres wasn't aware of just how interested they were in him until Shero announced that he was their choice.
"I met with them a couple of times, but you never know," Despres said. "In the draft, it's so unpredictable."
What he did know was that he liked the idea of ending up with the Penguins. Turns out he was something of a fan long before he became part of the organization.
"I was wanting them to win the Stanley Cup this year," he said. "Mario Lemieux and [Sidney] Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin and all those guys. It's a great honor, and I'm very excited."
Despres is the first defenseman the Penguins have taken in the first round since they claimed Ryan Whitney in 2002. Unlike Whitney, whose forte always was offense, Despres' game is built on his work in his own zone.
"He's not a big offensive numbers guy as of yet, but he's going to at least be a good first-pass defenseman who defends well," Heinbuck said. "He skates well for a 6 foot 4 kid and he's just [showing] the tip of the iceberg, physically.
"He's already a big boy, and he hasn't filled out yet. He has a chance to be a massive person."
Heinbuck said Despres was at less than 100 percent for most of the past season -- "He did play with a bit of a hip problem all year. A bruised hip, where every time you play, you bang it again" -- and suggested that might have been one of the factors that contributed to him still being available when it was the Penguins' turn to choose.
His modest offensive statistics might have been another.
"Maybe people thought he should have put up more offensive numbers, but he's been on Canada's national teams for his age all along," Heinbuck said.
He will not, however, be fast-tracked to the NHL. If he's able to contend for a job with the Penguins in three seasons, management will be delighted.
"He has another two years of junior eligibility," Heinbuck said. "If he takes some good strides in those years ... our philosophy is not to rush guys."http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09178/98034...0JbYVJ0LU&D