Simon Despres

Looking to make the leap: Simon Despres


By now, you may know all about Simon Despres. The smooth-skating defenseman has gotten a more than a few looks the past three seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but now he’s at a bit of a crossroads.

As opposed to other players we’ve featured in our series, Despres is in a tricky position when it comes to making the leap. Instead of trying to blast his way out of junior or college hockey, he’s trying to make his way out of the American Hockey League.

The 23-year-old came in highly-touted when he was taken in the first-round, 30th overall in 2009 out of Saint John. He put up strong numbers for the Sea Dogs and turned pro in 2011. Since then, it’s been a bumpy ride that’s seen him get acclimated to taking the bus between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Pittsburgh.

One of the highlights to his game coming out of juniors was his offensive play. In four seasons he had 134 points in 240 games (0.55 points per-game). Since turning pro, that part of his game has all but disappeared.

In 85 games with Pittsburgh, he has 16 points (0.18 PPG) and in the AHL he had 45 points in 107 games (0.42 PPG). On the bright side, his possession numbers during his time in Pittsburgh have been very strong, especially the past two seasons. On the other hand, he could never find a way to impress Dan Bylsma enough to stick around full-time.

Perhaps fortunately for Despres, Bylsma is gone and Mike Johnston is in. With Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik now in Washington, the Penguins are going to have one hole to fill on the blue line. Christian Ehrhoff should take over where Niskanen left off, but with puck possession becoming a more vital part to playing defense, the opportunity for Despres to make a good impression is there for the taking.

The problem he’s going to face in training camp, however, will come from other young defenseman itchy to make it to Pittsburgh themselves. Olli Maatta showed last season that age is but a number and solid play will help you stick around. It’s that example Scott Harrington, Brian Dumoulin, Derrick Pouliot, and Philip Samuelsson will be looking to follow.

With hefty competition amongst young defenseman and many others likely holding spots down already (Ehrhoff, Maatta, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Rob Scuderi), the Pens blue line will be more than worth watching in training camp.

Perhaps fortunately for Despres, everyone will start with a clean slate for the new coach.

NHL on NBCSN: Red Wings face Lightning in ’15 playoff rematch

Steven Stamkos, Henrik Zetterberg
AP Photo

NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2015-16 campaign tonight when the Detroit Red Wings host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can stream the game online here.

The Lightning made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015, but their journey almost ended in the first round at the hands of the Red Wings. Detroit shutout Tampa Bay twice in that series and the two squads were locked in a scoreless tie until the third period of Game 7.

Despite the fact that the Red Wings were a mere hair away from advancing instead of Tampa Bay, the Lightning are often mentioned as serious Cup contenders while Detroit is typically regarded as a good, but not amazing team. However, that gap isn’t entirely unjustified.

After all, Tampa Bay has a very effective core of forwards that features Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat. If the highly regarded Jonathan Drouin, 20, is able to build off of his strong start to the 2015-16 campaign then the Lightning’s offense could be even more dangerous this season.

Detroit certainly has some offensive star power too in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, but the duo is 35 and 37 years old respectively. On top of that, injuries have been a recurring issue for Datsyuk, who isn’t expected to make his season debut until November after undergoing ankle surgery.

As good as those two forwards still are, the Red Wings have to hope that their younger players will be able to lead the charge sooner rather than later. The good news is that 19-year-old Dylan Larkin‘s campaign is off to a strong start with three points in two games while 23-year-old Teemu Pulkkinen scored twice on Saturday.

The Red Wings have opened the season with back-to-back wins against Toronto and Carolina, but tonight’s game represents their biggest test to date. Meanwhile, the Lightning are similarly undefeated after three games, but this contest will be particularly trying for them given that it’s their third game in four days.

PHT Morning Skate: Columnist argues McDavid’s already NHL’s most important player

Connor McDavid
AP Photo

PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Although Connor McDavid‘s NHL career has only just gotten started, is he already the league’s most important player? (Sportsnet)

While we’re on the subject of McDavid, what should we expect from him for the remainder of his rookie campaign? (NHL Numbers)

Jack Jablonski was paralyzed on Dec. 30, 2011 at the age of 16 while playing high school hockey, but that hasn’t ended his pursuit of a career in hockey. He’s spent the last two years hosting a weekly hockey-talk radio program and has now joined the Los Angeles Kings as a communications intern. (Orange County Register)

Arizona State has earned its first NCAA victory. (Arizona Republic)

The 2015 Calder Cup champion Manchester Monarchs got their rings. (LA Kings Insider)

The Anaheim Ducks and the Make-A-Wish Foundation gave 13-year-old Kai Quinonez, who was diagnosed with aplastic anemia four years ago, a tremendous experience. (Orange County Register)