Tag: Scott Harrington

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.

Pittsburgh’s defensive depth is staggering

Kris Letang

One area the Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t lacking in is on defense.

That may sound surprising to some who watched the Islanders and Bruins score plenty of goals against Pittsburgh in the postseason, but when you look at the organizational depth on the blue line this is a team that doesn’t need much help. Take a look at what they’ve got headed into this season on the back line.

Kris Letang was a Norris Trophy finalist last season thanks to his offensive production. His defensive play has picked up in recent seasons and if he can cut out his penchant for taking retaliatory penalties, he could be even better. Paul Martin’s play last year showed that his first season in Pittsburgh was just one big slump as he was one of the Penguins’ most consistent players.

Matt Niskanen’s play improved to a point that helps make the James Neal-Alex Goligoski deal look even more lopsided. Brooks Orpik… Could’ve been better, but Rob Scuderi will jump in to help him carry the defensive load. The talent doesn’t stop there though.

Young guys like Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres will push for more ice time in Pittsburgh on their third pairing and Deryk Engelland showed he’s more than a fist-thrower. He has to do that because the skill coming up is strong.

Derrick Pouliot (2012 1st round) was part of Team Canada’s World Junior camp and was excellent last season in the WHL for Portland.

Brian Dumoulin (acquired in Jordan Staal deal), Olli Maatta (2012 first-round), Scott Harrington (2011 2nd round), and Philip Samuelsson (2009 2nd round) round out an exceptional group of kids, some of which will be knocking on the door in the AHL this year.

With this kind of depth, Pens GM Ray Shero was comfortable in moving Joe Morrow in the deal to get Brenden Morrow last season.  It’s also this kind of depth that led to rumors of Kris Letang possibly being moved before he agreed to a monster extension with the Pens.

Say what you will about Pittsburgh’s defense, but they’re not lacking in talent or options. That’s the kind of thing that should make Marc-Andre Fleury a happy guy.

Hockey Canada announces World Junior selection camp

Team Canada logo

Few countries would be disappointed in wining a bronze medal, but Team Canada will be gunning to top that at this year’s World Junior Championships in Russia. As for who will go for the gold, that’s still up in the air.

Hockey Canada announced their selection camp will take place December 11-15 in Calgary. Team Canada coach Steve Spott tells Mike Morreale of NHL.com they know there’s stiff competition to be had.

“If there’s anything I would say to Canadian hockey fans, it’s that this has become a global sport,” Spott said. “It’s no longer Canada’s divine right to win gold medals at any level. The bar has been raised, but it hasn’t changed our mindset where it is gold or nothing.”

One guy who won’t be suiting up for Canada is defenseman Ryan Murray. He’ll miss up to six months after undergoing surgery on his injured shoulder. Don’t feel too bad for Canada as they’ll still have a loaded blue line (as well as the rest of the team) with guys like Dougie Hamilton and Scott Harrington (among many others) as well as likely top five picks in the 2013 draft forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin.

The World Junior Championships go from December 26 through January 5 in Ufa, Russia.