Wednesday, 07.14.2010 / 3:54 PM
Features By Sam Kasan
> Despres is attending his second development camp
> Despres is fighting for a roster spot at the Penguins’ upcoming training camp
> Despres has improved physically since last year
> Despres has worked on his shot and set career highs offensively last year with Saint John
> Despres was the Penguins’ 2009 first-round draft pick
Penguins defenseman Simon Despres is only one year removed from being drafted by Pittsburgh in the first round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. However, his progress and improvement are evident for all those around him to see at the Penguins 2010 development camp.
Since last year Despres has added on to his already impressive stature. He measured in last year at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, and it’s clear that he has spent much of the offseason bulking up his frame.
“Like any young kid, one year makes a huge difference with confidence, maturity and just the way that he looks,” Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. “He understands nutrition. He understands conditioning. You can see the transformation in his body in one year. When you try to forecast in five years what that big body is going to look like, that’s pretty exciting to think about.”
Despres has also improved considerably on the ice. The 18-year-old was a stalwart on the blue line for Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, setting career highs across the board in goals (9), assists (3
, points (47), plus-minus (plus-26), power-play goals (4) and game-winning goals (4). He chipped in an eye-popping 19 points (2G-17A) in just 21 postseason contests for the Sea Dogs.
“I was more confident on the ice, and confidence for me was a big issue,” Despres said. “It’s always fun to be on the winning team, so the atmosphere in our room was good. It was fun to go to the rink this year.
“We had a great team overall. It was a fun atmosphere in the room. It was fun to go to the rink. It reflected on my play. I got better as the season went on. I played with great players. We had a great team. It reflected on my numbers.”
Another reason Despres’ numbers improved was the work he did during the year on his offensive game, particularly with his shot.
“I’ve been working on my shot this summer by shooting on goalies, and it has gotten better,” he said. “As a defenseman, I shoot a lot from the blue line, but give me a shot from the slot and I’ll bury it.”
Despres, who has another year of eligibility in juniors, is hoping to make his mark at the upcoming training camp, and add his name to the list of candidates for a position in Pittsburgh this year.
Although Despres’ chances of making the Penguins were impacted by the phenomenal work of general manager Ray Shero and his recent blockbuster signings of Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin, Despres is not discouraged, and welcomes the challenge.
“I didn’t really have a reaction,” Despres said of the signings. “I didn’t know what to expect. It gives me a little bit more motivation to work harder and try to earn my spot than if they didn’t sign them. … The things they do in the offseason are out of my control.”
Despres, the 30th-overall selection in the 2009 draft, is attending his second development camp with the Penguins. He entered his first camp as a fresh, young novice, a little nervous in the new environment.
But this year Despres looks like a seasoned veteran, and can be seen helping and coaching the younger players.
“It’s my second year here,” Despres said. “I knew what to expect. I came in with more confidence. I’m more comfortable in the room. I know the guys who were here last year, so it’s good. … I’ll try to be dominant and be a leader and show what I can do.”
“It’s growth from one year to the next,” Fitzgerald said. “You talk about Simon Despres, you saw him come in last year as a 17-year-old. He’s not much older than Beau Bennett this year. You’ll see a major difference in the body transformation. They’re at ease and come in, and when you’re more relaxed, you’re more comfortable, and you can do what you’re supposed to do on the ice.
“You watch Simon on the ice compared to some of the younger guys, and you can see that he’s just relaxed. He’s at ease with who he is and his surroundings. That makes for him to be more comfortable and more productive as a player.”
The Penguins will continue to monitor Despres’ development as he steps closer and closer to becoming an NHL player. But to fulfill his dream, Despres knows there is a long road ahead.
“That’s what I have been dreaming of for all of my life,” he said. “I’ve been working for it. You have to keep working to get there.
“Every aspect of my game needs a lot of tweaking. There’s a lot of work to be done and I’ll keep working on that. I’ll try to give the best impression I can and let them decide my fate.”