Simon Despres is no longer a rookie.
Entering his fourth consecutive developmental camp, the 30th overall selection in the 2009 NHL Draft arrives with NHL experience in tow.
“I want to give myself the best chance to make the team,” Despres said, “so I’m going to work here really hard this summer and make a lot of sacrifices to be here at the camp.”
Last season, Despres played in 18 games with the Penguins from December to March, averaging more than 14 minutes of ice time per game during that span. He also appeared in three playoff games against the Flyers.
“Simon is interesting in the aspect that as a junior player, (he) has the ability to really do everything on the ice,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “As he turns pro, he’s juggling where he fits in terms of being able to add offense, jumping to the play, take risk if that’s what his offensive game might be.”
As Despres continues to develop, emerging as a complete player, or one who is at least NHL ready, the more interesting parallel for the Penguins is the potential for the defensive duo of Despres and Kris Letang.
“It’s an intriguing matchup,” said Bylsma of the pair, “but you kind of see a young guy kind of paired with a guy who was a young guy, who has some maturity at a different point in his game. They’ve had some similar paths, and Simon’s a couple years behind Kris and can lean on that, and you see that in the pairing.”
Despres scored one goal with the Penguins on Dec. 17 against Buffalo. He also recorded three assists in addition to 15 points in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season.
“I think when you saw him come up and play, he showed he could play defensively against good people, good lines, in tough places,” Byslma said. “We saw him match up at times against (Alex) Ovechkin, and other team’s top lines in some of the injury situations we had last year with Kris Letang.”
As for NHL readiness, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach John Hynes said Tuesday that Despres is in the same category as AHL defensemen Brian Strait and Robert Bortuzzo
“I think those guys are right there ready,” he said. “Those guys are knocking right on the door, and they’re ready to prove themselves through their experiences that they’re ready to take the next step.”