2009 first round pick Simon Despres is back up with the Penguins and practiced with the team today.
With Kris Letang possibly out for the season and Paul Martin sidelined, Despres has a golden opportunity where could be in line for a big role with the team down the stretch. The million dollar question is whether the coaching staff gives him that opportunity and whether Despres will even be around past the March 5th trade deadline.
Despres has been looked at by Penguins officials as a trade chip for months and teams around the league know he’s in play for the right deal. One team executive of an Eastern Conference team called Despres a “significant trade chip”. Some teams see Despres as one and some surely don’t, but a young defenseman like Despres with his size who you know can play at the NHL level, has value around the league. There’s a wide range of opinions surrounding Despres ceiling with a number of scouts putting him in the category of a potential (solid) No. 5 defenseman, which isn’t a bad thing as scouts don’t like to put a top-4 label on a lot of young blueliners.
NHL clubs wonder if the Penguins pull back on being willing to move Despres due to Letang’s uncertainty.
Among the top sellers, the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres, the Isles seek a high level prospect (and more) for Tomas Vanek as do the Buffalo Sabres with Matt Moulson. League sources speculate Despres could be very enticing for the Islanders were the Penguins to make an aggressive play for Vanek due to the Islanders intent on moving defenseman Andrew MacDonald. The Penguins had some exploratory talks with the Islanders about Vanek prior to the Olympic break and rumblings are GM Garth Snow is determined to get a high end forward prospect as a center piece for a Vanek trade.
Teams, including the Penguins have come away with the assumption that the Sabres will get a bigger haul for Matt Moulson than the Islanders will for Vanek. Just a guess right now but the belief has been for weeks that the Penguins like Moulson better than Vanek from a fit standpoint.
DOES COACHING STAFF BELIEVE IN DESPRES?
It’s hard to argue that Despres hasn’t been given a fair shake in Pittsburgh yet by this coaching staff.
One problem has been how the coaches have handled Despres. On most occasions Despres has had to play mistake free hockey to stay in the lineup. One source on the situation said there’s always players that coaches love to nitpick and Despres has fallen into that category. That’s hard on a young defenseman.
But, it’s not just the coaching staff. Some in the organization have been frustrated in that Despres hasn’t taken that next big step in his development after he failed to push his way onto the roster in training camp like Olli Maatta did. Despres had had some dominant stretches in Wilkes Barre this season but plagued a bit by inconsistency. Team sources have regarded Philip Samuelsson as the best defenseman in Wilkes Barre over the last month.
The Penguins are looking around on the D-man market but the cost of adding even a third pairing rental defenseman is a second round pick and plus. Pittsburgh’s best move might be to go with some youth and roll the dice with Despres and give him an actual shot to be a difference maker down the stretch and potentially in the playoffs if Letang doesn’t return.