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Despres Continues to Impress

Wednesday, 05.04.2011 / 8:00 PM / Features
By Michelle Crechiolo
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Despres Continues to Impress
It could have been tough for Simon Despres to swallow his re-assignment to the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) after being the final roster cut from Penguins training camp last September.

But Despres instead viewed his situation as an opportunity for improvement and responded by taking his game to another level, earning the Emile “Butch” Bouchard Trophy as the QMJHL’s Best Defenseman and a silver medal with Team Canada at the 2011 World Junior Championships.

Despres at the Penguins' 2010 training camp.
“The three goals for him this year were one, having been sent back to try to maintain and elevate his game, because it’s difficult going back to juniors,” said Penguins general manager Ray Shero. “He probably was ready for the American Hockey League at least, maybe the NHL.

“The second thing being trying to make the World Juniors team for Canada, which he did, and won a silver medal there. Then of course, trying to be the best defenseman in the league, which he obviously accomplished that as well. So three main goals for him, and he accomplished all three of him. I think that says a lot about him.”

Reflecting on his season and what he was able to accomplish, Despres – who also attended Penguins training camp in 2009 after being taken in the first round (30th overall) by Pittsburgh in that summer’s draft – admitted the extra year of development paid off handsomely.

Despres at the Penguins' 2010 training camp.
“Looking back, I think it was good for me,” he said. “I don’t think I was that ready to make the next step, and it made me work on all of those things. I had a great time this year, I got that much better and we have a very good team. I’ve had a lot of good experiences this year in my last junior year.”

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang also played in the QMJHL before coming to Pittsburgh and won the very same trophy Despres did, his coming in 2007 with the Val-d’Or Foreurs.

“It’s a huge honor,” Letang said of Despres being named the league’s Best Defenseman. “He had a great training camp, he could have stuck up with the team for a little bit but he went down and he kept playing really well and working on his game.”

Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald, who monitors all Penguins prospects, has worked closely with Despres in the defenseman’s last two training camps.

Despres at the Penguins' 2010 training camp.
Fitzgerald understands the challenge Despres faced going back to juniors, but gives him credit for continuing to work on the foundations the coaches in Pittsburgh build for their defensemen. Fitzgerald has also kept in contact with Despres’ coaches at Saint John to ensure the 19-year-old blueliner keeps practicing what the Pittsburgh coaches have preached over the past two years.

“I think he’s going to be a guy that’s going to have a long career,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s got a bright future with this organization and to be a top defender. At what age will he become (a top defender), I can’t tell you that. … But I do know that he will end up being part of this organization and being a big part down the road.”

Despres plans on continuing to find ways to elevate his game, and be ready when that time does come for him to make his mark in the NHL.

I think he’s going to be a guy that’s going to have a long career. He’s got a bright future with this organization and to be a top defender. At what age will he become (a top defender), I can’t tell you that. … But I do know that he will end up being part of this organization and being a big part down the road - Tom Fitzgerald, on Simon Despres
“I love the game of hockey,” he said. “I want to get to the best league in the world, which is the NHL. Just playing hockey, it’s a great life to have, so it’s not hard for me to find motivation. I’ve done it my whole life and it’s what I want to do later, so I’m working hard to keep doing that.”

However, there is one final goal Shero would to see Despres to accomplish this season, as the Sea Dogs have advanced to their second straight QMJHL championship series (also known as the President's Cup), which kicks off Thursday.

Despres has tallied six points (1G-6A) in 13 postseason contests after scoring a career-high 13 goals and 41 points in 47 regular-season games. Last season, he netted 19 points (2G-17A) in the Sea Dogs' run to the finals after establishing a personal-best 47 points (9G-38A) in 63 regular-season games.

"They’ve got a great team, he’s a leader there. That was part of the motivation of going back," Shero said. "They’ve got a really good team, hopefully they are going to the President's Cup, so one more thing for him to do is hopefully finish up with a strong season with a President's Cup championship. That would be great for him. So everything is so far, so good."
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