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The Art of Scouting, Part II: Why the Penguins Chose Simon Despres

Monday, 06.20.2011 / 9:00 AM / Features
By Michelle Crechiolo
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The Art of Scouting, Part II: Why the Penguins Chose Simon Despres
In the two years that have passed since being drafted in the first round (30th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft by the Penguins, Simon Despres has emphatically proven that he is truly a special player.

The Penguins spent two years scouting Despres before making him their first pick (30th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
The 19-year-old defenseman’s achievements this past season alone include winning a Memorial Cup with his junior team, Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), earning the Emile “Butch” Bouchard Trophy as the QMJHL’s Best Defenseman in April and capturing a silver medal with Team Canada at the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championships in Buffalo, N.Y. in January.

But how did the Penguins scouting staff realize back in 2009 that Simon Despres was a name they would feel comfortable with having at the top of their draft board when it came time for them to make their selection?

Penguins assistant general manager Jason Botterill explained the entire process to www.PittsburghPenguins.com.

EVALUTING DESPRES THE YEAR BEFORE HE BECOMES DRAFT ELIGIBLE

For starters, Despres had been a player to watch since age 16 thanks to being the first overall selection in the 2007 QMJHL Draft.

"
Despres at the Home-Hardware CHL-NHL Top Prospects Game in January of 2009. (Getty Images)
Immediately, he’s on some of your scouts’ radars for down the road,” said Botterill.

At that point, the Penguins scouting staff begins compiling a “book” on Despres the year before he officially becomes draft eligible.

“In his 16-year-old year, (our scouts) are watching his team,” Botterill said. “You’re also watching other players, but you’re always just sort of keeping an eye (on Simon). Maybe you’re not putting in a game report on him after every game, but after seeing that team three or four times, you’re just putting a little note in on what you think of how the player is developing and maybe his progress this year, some of the attributes you really like about him and the things moving forward that he needs to work on.”

After his rookie season ends – where he was named to the QMJHL All-Rookie Team after scoring 14 points (1G-13A) and earning a plus-18 rating through 64 games – Despres continues to be evaluated throughout the summer at camps he attends.

EVALUATING DESPRES DURING HIS DRAFT-ELIGIBLE SEASON

Since Despres has already established himself as one of the higher-end talents, the members of the Penguins scouting staff know he’s a player that is going to require plenty of attention.  

I think the things that jump out at you right away were just his size and his skating ability. Then at a young age, he was playing a very big role for the Saint John team. You talk to him off the ice and he’s a big man, but has a quiet personality and seems to be very driven. That’s what we’ve liked about him right off the bat. - Penguins assistant GM Jason Botterill
“We know at the start of the year that he’s a player that is going to be watched a lot by our regional scout,” Botterill said. “So at the start of September when (our regional scout) is setting stuff up, he’s in there quite often. He’s telling our crossover scouts that ‘Hey, this is a guy that you need to come in early in the season to watch.’

“For our crossover scouts, if it’s a well-known guy like that, you like to catch him at the start of the year, the middle of the year and the end of the year just to see the progression. You like to try to get these guys who are sort of well-known like Simon right off the bat, because there’s always going to be players who are coming out of the woodwork and you’re always sort of chasing a player in the second half. So it’s good if you can get some of your work done on more of these higher-end players right away.”

The evaluation process begins heating up during Despres’ sophomore campaign since it is the year he becomes draft eligible. Penguins amateur scout Luc Gauthier, who is based in Quebec, does much of the work.

Gauthier finds out as much as he can about the type of person Despres is away from the rink, like what his work habits are off the ice, what type of student he is and what his family situation is like.

During the regular season, Gauthier gets feedback from Despres’ coaches in Saint John and from Despres himself – who is 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds at the time – in order to get a feel for the young defenseman.

“I think the things that jump out at you right away are just his size and his skating ability,” Botterill said. “Then at a young age, he was playing a very big role for the Saint John team. You talk to him off the ice and he’s a big man, but has a quiet personality and seems to be very driven. That’s what we’ve liked about him right off the bat.”

EVALUATING DESPRES AT THE 2009 UNDER-18 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

Despres' performances with Team Canada played a role in his final evaluation. (Getty Images)
After the Sea Dogs get eliminated from the playoffs, Despres then travels to Fargo, N.D. to represent Team Canada at the 2009 Under-18 World Championships.

“That’s another great situation there because you see him against a lot of top-end competition,” Botterill said.

While Despres, who served as an assistant captain with Team Canada, had a solid but not exceptional performance at the tournament, Botterill said his efforts did not make or break his draft status.

“We’re always a staff where (one tournament) is part of the picture and it’s part of the evaluation process, but it can’t be the whole,” he said.

In fact, that's the type of situation where all of the work the Penguins scouts have put in since Despres was 16 comes in handy.

It’s not only the Saint John coaches you can talk to after the season; you can now talk to the coaches that were with Team Canada. ... The important thing that we continued to get back was that he fit in with his teams in Saint John and he fit in with the Canadian teams, too. - Penguins assistant GM Jason Botterill
“That’s why it’s important that you do your work over the previous two years on getting a book on a player,” Botterill said.

Once the tournament is over, the process of gathering all of the necessary information to evaluate Despres reaches full throttle.

“It’s not only the Saint John coaches you can talk to after the season; you can now talk to the coaches that were with Team Canada,” Botterill said. “How did Simon interact with the players, how was his work ethic and are there any red flags there?

“The important thing that we continued to get back was that he fit in with his teams in Saint John and he fit in with the Canadian teams, too.”

The coaching staff with Team Canada has only positive feedback to offer.

“Maybe it wasn't the most successful tournament for Simon, but none of these coaches had red flags on him,” Botterill said. “They talked about how he was still the consummate professional about it and accepted his role on the team and was fine with that. Those are just some of the things you’re trying to pull from interviews.”

DETERMINING DESPRES’ FINAL STANDING ON PITTSBURGH’S DRAFT BOARD

After two years of scouting and evaluating Despres, he was first on Pittsburgh's draft list when it came time for them to make their selection. (Getty Images)
Despres then travels to Toronto for the NHL Scouting Combine, where Pittsburgh is one of the 25 teams that he interviews with.

Once that’s over, the Penguins make the final decision over where Despres should be placed on the list that they will take to Montreal, where the draft is taking place.

“It’s a question where Ray is going to talk to our staff and say, ‘Do you feel comfortable with this being our first-round pick?’ And obviously our staff was definitely comfortable with him being our first-round pick,” Botterill said.

“Then it was after we won the Cup, so we’re picking 30th. So you wait and all of these guys are going off and a lot of players are going off your list, but you’re just being patient. Then you get to it and he’s the next guy on our list. We’ve talked about it before that this is a player that we feel completely comfortable taking in the first
He’s made some good strides over the last couple of years, so we’re excited to have him in our organization for sure. - Penguins assistant GM Jason Botterill
round. So we just go ahead and draft him.”

After two years of being scouted by the organization, Despres is now officially a Pittsburgh Penguin.

Despres is still young and has plenty of work to do before becoming a bonafide NHLer. But Botterill and the rest of the Penguins staff are pleased with the progress he's made over the past two years.

“It’s been a good two-year progression,” Botterill said. “He’s made some good strides over the last couple of years, so we’re excited to have him in our organization for sure.”
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