Baby Penguins coach: Despres flourishes with specific tasks
WILKES-BARRE — Penguins management could have told 22-year-old defenseman Simon Despres that he was sent down to Wilkes-Barre at the end of training camp because hockey is a business.
He probably would have believed them, too. All the signs were certainly pointing that way.
The 6-foot-4, 214-pound Despres had success in the NHL during his first two years as a pro. A plus-14 rating in 51 regular-season games is evidence of that. But the Penguins were up against the salary cap, and Despres was one of only two players in camp who did not need to clear waivers to be sent down, so out the door he went.
Penguins management did not tell him the move was strictly business, however.
“It’s maybe one of the reasons,” Despres said. “There’s probably more than one.”
The Penguins want to see more consistency from Despres. Not consistency of effort or even consistency of results. Consistency of focus.
When Despres is given a specific task, he thrives. In the first two weeks of the season for the Baby Pens, for example, he and defense partner Philip Samuelsson were given the assignment of shutting down the opponent’s top line. Despres responded by going plus-6 in his first three games.
“He’s played a reliable, consistent game,” Baby Pens coach John Hynes said.
When Despres loses sight of the task at hand, his game gets ragged.
“When he has structure, it’s a clear focus,” Hynes said. “That’s what he needs.”
No matter how quickly Despres corrects that perceived flaw in his game, he’s the Baby Pens player most likely to be called up. He’s too big and skilled.
Here are the rest of the 10 Baby Pens most likely to be promoted, ranked by how ready they are to contribute, not by how high their ceiling is. Players are listed with position, height, weight and age.
2. Chris Conner (LW/RW, 5-8, 190, 29): He has NHL speed and the kind of feisty forechecking game Dan Bylsma likes.
3. Brian Gibbons (C/LW, 5-8, 170, 25): A scorer at Boston College, he has emerged as a pesky penalty killer. Maybe just as fast as Conner.
4. Jayson Megna (C/RW, 6-1, 195, 23): Hasn’t shown a scoring touch yet, but his penalty killing and D-zone work are sound. Another excellent skater.
5. Brendan Mikkelson (D, 6-3, 210, 26): The most experienced Baby Pens defenseman with 131 NHL games. Nice combination of size and skill.
6. Brian Dumoulin (D, 6-4, 219, 22): Only a half-step behind Despres on the prospect ladder. Came into his own in both zones in the AHL playoffs last spring.
7. Zach Sill (C, 6-0, 202, 25): Prototypical fourth-line center hits, fights, wins faceoffs and kills penalties. It’s his fifth year in Wilkes-Barre, so it’s now or never.
8. Andrew Ebbett (C, 5-9, 174, 30): A veteran of 191 NHL games who is, for now, a perfect minor league veteran playmaker to help the young wingers along.
9. Nick Drazenovic (C, 6-0, 192, 26): Almost a point-per-game scorer in the AHL the past two seasons. If he ups his physicality, he could be in business.
10. Scott Harrington (D, 6-2, 205, 21): With no holes in his game, Harrington’s future is as a lockdown NHL defenseman. All he needs is a little experience.
Other candidates: Philip Samuelsson (D, 6-2, 194, 22); Dominik Uher (LW, 6-1, 199, 20); Adam Payerl (RW, 6-3, 218, 22); Tom Kuhnhackl (LW/RW, 6-2, 172, 21); Paul Thompson (RW, 6-1, 198, 24); Eric Hartzell (G, 6-4, 205, 24); Bobby Farnham (LW, 5-10, 187, 24).
Jonathan Bombulie has covered the Baby Pens for the Citizens’ Voice in Wilkes-Barre since the team’s inception in 1999. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.