What Should The Penguins Do With Simon Despres?

Monday, January 20, 2014
Photo credit: Amy's WBS Penguins Picture Page
It seems as though the Penguins organization has come to a crossroads with defenseman Simon Despres. The third year pro came into the season looking to earn a full-time NHL roster spot, but has seemingly fallen out of favor with the Pittsburgh brass. With the blue line in Pittsburgh returning to full-strength and the trade deadline quickly approaching (March 5th - 3:00 p.m.), what is Despres' future within the Penguins organization?

After an under-achieving training camp paired with 19-year-old Olli Maatta impressing the Pittsburgh staff, the Pens were forced to send Despres, who is in his final year of waiver exemption, to their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, to make room for seven defensemen on the NHL roster with one-way contracts.

Simply put, Despres didn't perform well enough for the Penguins put one of the aforementioned defensemen on waivers to free up a spot for him. It was an easy decision for the Pens to send Despres to the minors and keep all of their contracted players in the organization.

After starting the season in the AHL and registering three goals, eight assists and a plus 13 rating in 17 games, Despres earned his first NHL recall of the 2013-14 season amidst several injuries to the NHL club on Thanksgiving Eve.

Despres got off to a good start. After being held scoreless in his first four NHL games, Despres tallied assists in three of his following four games and was even starting to get some time on the power play. From there, it seemed as though his play started to decline, leading up to his last game in the NHL Penguins lineup on January 7th in Vancouver. Despres was victimized several times in that game, which led to several Canucks scoring chances and ultimately goals against his team.
In Pittsburgh's last eight games, Despres was a healthy scratch five times, including their last three games before Despres was re-assigned to the AHL Penguins this past Thursday (Jan. 16th).

Since returning to the AHL Pens, Despres has picked up right where he left off at the AHL level. In three games over the weekend, Despres recorded four points (3G-1A) and a plus six rating. At the AHL level, Despres has been the best defenseman on the ice in just about every game he's played. On the season with the AHL Penguins, Despres has 15 points (6G-9A) in 20 games.

What's even more impressive is that Despres isn't padding his stats with power play points, either. In fact, before this weekend Despres wasn't receiving much if any time on the man advantage at the AHL level. Despres has just one point on the power play this season with the AHL Pens.

Despres has been on the top pairing with Philip Samuelsson for most of the season with the AHL Penguins, and the key seems to be working on Despres' defensive game. He's been regularly matched up against opposing team's top offensive players and is eating up big minutes on the penalty kill and in late-game situations. With a plus 19 rating on the season, it's safe to say he has fared well during his even-strength shifts as well.

Which leads to the all-important question (and title of this story): What should the Penguins do with Despres?

After this season, Despres will need to clear waivers in order to be assigned to the AHL. As a former first round draft pick and a guy who has never been made available to other teams before, there's almost no chance that Despres wouldn't get picked up by another team if exposed to waivers.

If the Penguins don't think Despres is a lock for the NHL club next season, then the time to trade him is now. The Pens certainly don't want to lose an asset like Despres to waivers next season, much like how they lost Brian Strait a few seasons ago.

What the Penguins plan to do with some other defenseman in the organization who also have expiring contracts at the end of the season (Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Deryk Engelland) could play an important role on the decision of the Pens' next move with Despres.

If the Pens are going to trade Despres, then there's no better time than the present. Despres' trade value this season is much higher than it will be after the season is over. Any NHL team looking to rebuild with younger players would certainly have interest in a guy like Despres, who is looking for full-time work in the NHL.

The Pens organization has prided itself in their ability to create a pipeline of defense prospects through the NHL Entry Draft (Joe Morrow, Olli Maatta, Scott Harrington and Philip Samuelsson) and trades (Derrick Pouliot and Brian Dumoulin). Has the time come for another highly-touted blue line prospect to be traded for immediate depth at the forward position?

Despres will almost certainly be a full-time NHL defenseman, and quite possibly in the very near future. Whether or not it's with the Pittsburgh Penguins or another NHL team remains to be seen.


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