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His patience with the puck wasn’t enough to keep him in the NHL. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh): With a month and a half before the trade deadline, there is no player in the Penguins organization causing more confusion than Simon Despres. Future top-4 defenseman, trade bait, bust – he’s been hypothetically put into every situation possible already and he’s just 22 years old. With his contract expiring after this season (RFA) and a recent demotion to the AHL, where do you even begin the conversation about Simon Despres??
Andy Hughes (@PensNation_Andy): It’s quite a situation, to say the least. I remember when people thought that Despres was considered one of the steals of the 2009 NHL Draft. He was originally rated one of the top North American skaters, but then he injured his hip and his production took a hit. That caused his draft stock to fall, which gave the Penguins an opportunity to draft him 30th overall. Since then, it has been quite a roller coaster ride. He has had numerous opportunities to impress the coaching staff and I guess that has not happened yet. I don’t think he’s been terrible, but I also don’t think he’s been great. However, it has to be pretty tough being in a situation like he is in right now. He basically cannot make a huge mistake or he will get sent to the press box. Remember when Eric Tangradi said that he felt like he was playing just to not make a mistake when he was in Pittsburgh? Despres seems to be in a similar scenario. Not many jobs available at his position in Pittsburgh and he can’t afford to make a mistake. Let’s be honest though, Despres is a much better player than Tangradi. I wanted to make that clear…
Nick Richter (@PensNation_Nick): Rob Rossi reported that there is no longer any faith on the Penguins staff about Despres and noted that he has lost biggest supporters this season. It seems odd that the organization soured so quickly on such a talented prospect. Dan Bylsma called Despres a “top four defenseman” this past offseason, yet he hasn’t given Despres much of a chance to play in that role, even with all of the injuries on the blue line this year for the Penguins. There is no doubt that Despres’ contract flexibility plays into the equation a little.
Really, though, there is no longer any faith on staff – it’s not just Bylsma – about Despres. He has lost biggest supporters this season.
— Rob Rossi (@RobRossi_Trib) January 16, 2014
In my opinion, Despres has progressed each season. He looked better positionally and systematically in most of the opportunities he has been given this season. I love the skill-set he provides and while he will occasionally have a bad game, I’m not sure the organization is thrilled with how he has responded to them. On the other hand, Olli Maatta – a prospect that jumped past Despres in the depth chart this year – responded to being a healthy scratch by being the first player on the ice the next day. It might be a little thing, but it speaks volumes to this coaching staff and organization.
Casey Johnston (@CaseyR82): I can’t decide if the organization has soured on Despres or if he’s simply a victim of his contract and waiver-eligibility. To stay with the big club he would have to outplay five veteran defensemen (and I’m including Deryk Engelland in that group). He would also have to outplay Olli Maatta, who doesn’t deserve to sit. This leaves Despres with having to compete with Robert Bortuzzo for press box time. That’s not an ideal situation for Despres, but it is what it is. He’s a 22-year-old defensemen in an organization that is loaded with both veterans and prospects on the blue line. As the one guy who doesn’t have to clear waivers to play in the AHL, he’s kind of the odd man out. His time will come. Will it come in Pittsburgh? That’s the real question.
Dan Bylsma said Simon Despres demotion was combo of him not needing waivers and not forcing his way into top six D at NHL level. #Penguins
— Shelly Anderson (@pgshelly) January 18, 2014
Ken Will (@PensNation_K): I’m with Casey on this one. I think Despres has been fine. But when you’re a top-four blue chipper in an organization that has the kind of defensive assets that the Penguins’ have–playing fine is your ticket out of town. By all accounts, the organizational temperature on Despres has grown lukewarm. I don’t have any way to gauge whether or not that’s actually true, but it’s consistent with what we’ve seen from this management and other players in his situation:
The same story was circulating for Joe Morrow, Angelo Esposito and Luca Caputi before they were dealt. Ryan Whitney made it a little further along, but he also benefited from being a part of a much younger system with less depth. While each one of those players is very different in regards to their style of play–the quick fall from grace is their common bond. There’s been some criticism that these guys aren’t getting enough of an opportunity to prove themselves, but I don’t think it has much to do with what any of us can watch on the ice.
I’m amazed at how many people still buy into the outdated notion that Joe Morrow was a top notch prospect when the Pens traded him.
— Derrick Graffius (@TK_Noodle) January 18, 2014
Meesh: Since his contract does expire at the end of this season, one thing is certain – his time will not come in Pittsburgh this year at least. That puts Shero and the organization into a tough spot with him. Re-sign him in the hopes that the organization will be happy with him in the future? With Orpik, Engelland, and Niskanen all on the path to free agency after this season, there is room for movement along the blue line. However, we also know that guys like Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington will be fighting for any potential empty spots next season. Re-signing Despres not only comes with the risk of his contract, but what happens if the Penguins end up in a situation where they feel like they have to send him down again? He won’t have his current contract versatility as an asset anymore.
If the organization is truly displeased with him, I would have to imagine that he will be moved sooner than later. What is Despres even worth on the trade market at this point? He played rather well when he was called up initially and only had a couple of bad games before he left the lineup this time around. I imagine his stock should still be decent based on his play and potential, but the rumors that the Pens aren’t happy with him can’t help that. So here’s the question now, what could Shero realistically get back for Despres?
Fair to wonder how much longer Despres will be a member of Penguins organization. Has talent, but an enigma. Would fetch needed winger.
— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_Trib) January 16, 2014
Nick: The Pens certainly haven’t done themselves any PR favors here by not trusting Despres to fill a spot on their blue line when the entire top four was out with injury. It’s hard to showcase a guy if you don’t play him. I would imagine that in any trade negotiation, Shero would likely sell the case that his game does not fit their current system and that his upside is still untapped. However, it’s not like Shero and the Pens haven’t found themselves in a somewhat similar situation. Alex Goligoski continued to fall out of favor in Pittsburgh and we are currently watching what he was able to fetch. Realistically, I would expect Despres to bring back a solid third line winger with at least a year left on his contract, but we’ve all been surprised in the past by what Shero is able to do.
Casey: Another defenseman in a comparable situation was Joe Morrow. He was once the star prospect in the Penguin’s organization. Then Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot came along and passed over Morrow in the team’s prospect rankings. The same thing is happening to Despres. Not only are Maatta and Pouliot more highly touted prospects, but the team is already talking about the futures of Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington more than the future of Despres. Whether it’s too many mistakes for the coaching staff’s liking, his bad training camp in 2013, or just the development of the other defensemen, Despres just does not seem to be in the team’s future plans. We know how this ended for Joe Morrow. Is this what is happening with Despres?
Can Despres even see the puck through his stache? (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Andy: Joe Morrow had a ton of potential, but he never had an opportunity in the NHL with the Penguins. I remember he got called up from the minors, participated in warm-ups and did not play in the game that night. He was eventually sent back to the minors without playing a single shift in the NHL. Two trades later, he still has yet to play in the NHL. Therefore, I think Despres has more value at this point. He has had some chances to show what he can do at the game’s highest level and has shown some promise. Sure, he has made some mistakes along the way, but who doesn’t? I think Despres will really benefit from a change of scenery. A team that does not have many young promising defensemen would love to play Despres every night. There will be some interest in the former first-round pick on the trade market. I don’t doubt that at all. The biggest question is what will those teams be willing to give up for a guy like Despres?
Ken: I can’t say that any of this has helped his market value, but these teams employ scouts for a reason. If they like what they see, then the way a team uses a player won’t change their opinion. So it’s all about perceived value; How much is a player worth to the seller and what will it take to make a deal happen? There are a number of things that I think make Ray Shero a success, and one of his greatest tools is his poker face. None of us are privy to his trade negotiations, but we get a glimpse of that in his interactions with the media. I don’t believe that the organization is surprised with the way any of the players I’ve listed have developed, but you better believe that Shero sold his colleagues on how “important” each of them were to the future of Penguins’ hockey.
It’s also the reason why the Penguins are so keen on drafting defensemen. The market isn’t as big for goaltenders and forwards are a dime-a-dozen. There are so many teams who are always shopping for help on their back end. Shero’s draft strategies have been somewhat criticized, but his penchant for defensemen is much like hockey’s version of investing in gold.
Meesh: Hopefully Shero can get some platinum back in a trade for Despres. I’m still not sold on the idea that he’s going to get moved. Bylsma’s comments make sense – he’s not a top 6 defenseman right now. Can anyone argue that against a lineup of Martin-Orpik, Scuderi-Letang, and Niskanen-Maatta? Despres will at least get playing time (and get scouted) in WBS, where he put up a nice two-goal game as the second star last night. However, offense isn’t exactly his issue.
Bylsma said Despres still needs to work on defensive aspect. “He has to continue to, as a pro, work at it and be better at it.” #Penguins
— Shelly Anderson (@pgshelly) January 18, 2014
Perhaps Despres shouldn’t be the discussion point though. Perhaps the bigger issue is whether the Penguins intend to keep Orpik, Engelland, and/or Niskanen. The organization’s plans for those three players could very well have a direct impact on what they want to do with Despres. If he does get moved, I would prefer to package him with a 1st/2nd rounder for a top-6 winger with a year+ left on his contract. That’s probably wishy-washy of me though.
For now, let’s just hope Despres keeps improving and developing, whether it’s for a trade or for next season. Thanks for the chat gentleman, until next time…(as Simon Despres scores his 3rd goal of the weekend while I post this).