After being honored with Penguins Rookie of the Year for the 2012-13 campaign, how will defenseman Simon Despres perform in his second full-season?
Despres, 22, was drafted by the Pens in the first-round (30th overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and has yet to reach his full potential as a professional hockey player.
But he’s close.
Standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing in at 214 pounds, Despres is one of the Pens biggest blueliners — and can be one of their best two-way defenseman for years to come.
Although he was bounced back-and-forth between the Pens and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Despres still managed to play for Pittsburgh in 33 contests — garnering 12 points (5G, 7A) and skating to a plus-9 rating.
And while those numbers may seem a little low — except for his outstanding plus-9 rating (third among rookie defensemen) — Despres placed fifth out of the entire Pens defensive core with 48 hits.
Acknowledging that Pittsburgh has quite the plethora of young defensive prospects, it remains to be seen how the organization will handle Despres.
Judging by how much playing time he received last season, one would presume that the team is ready to proceed in giving the young French-Canadien a larger role for the upcoming campaign.
But on the other hand, the Pens really didn’t lose any of their defensemen this offseason, and Despres only played in three postseason games.
The team has exceptional depth; however, due to their enlarged salary cap — which has them currently $1,098,333 over the limit — the Pens should be moving one of their D-men to try and shed some of that.
And should they choose to do so — which they’ll almost have to — Despres could finally see an entire season playing everyday for the Pens.
Still, it remains to be seen what head coach Dan Bylsma will do, considering he’s got options towards his defense.
Playing alongside Norris Trophy finalist Kris Letang for the majority of his stay at the NHL level last season, Despres is most likely going to be paired with him — should he be in line for more playing time.
Knowing how poorly the team sized up against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals, it’s a good bet that Despres will become more acclimated with the Pens system next season.
He’s still got room to improve — as far as turning the puck over is concerned — but he’s 22, mistakes are going to be made when they’re that young.
Especially when the Pens are flying up-and-down the ice like they usually are.
So as the summer windsÂ down and training camp begins to commence, you can certainly count on Despres to step into increased duties.
Unless of course Ray Shero pulls a fast one and trades the defenseman — wouldn’t put it past him.