Best pick at No. 30: Simon Despres, Penguins

Saturday, 06.01.2013 / 12:00 PM
Adam Kimelman  - Deputy Managing Editor

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first NHL Draft, assembled a 13-member panel to select the best first-round picks of all time, based on selection number. will feature one of the top first-round picks each day, beginning with the best No. 30 pick on June 1 and culminating with the all-time No. 1 pick on June 30, the day of the 2013 NHL Draft.

Today: The best No. 30 pick: Simon Despres, Pittsburgh Penguins, 2009

When the NHL added the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild as the 29th and 30th teams for the 2000-01 season, the NHL Draft featured a 30-team first round for the first time.

Therefore there is little NHL history associated with this pick and the majority of the 13 players taken at No. 30 have yet to make a significant impact in the NHL. It's also why the 13-member Dream Draft panel named five players as the best No. 30 first-round pick.

Though it was far from a consensus selection, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Simon Despres received the most votes.

Selected with the final pick of the first round of the 2009 NHL Draft, the 6-foot-4, 214-pound blueliner was coming off a strong season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League; he scored 32 points and had a plus-16 rating in 66 games. His offensive output came despite playing much of the season with a painful hip bruise.

He was No. 8 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking, and Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau told prior to the draft, "I've never seen the kid play a bad game. He makes safe plays, and the best offensively is yet to come. He has all the tools, and I think he's going to be a real good player in the NHL."

So far, those opportunities haven't been plentiful. With the Penguins coming off a Stanley Cup championship in 2009, they were able to bring Despres along slowly. He spent two more seasons in the QMJHL and started the 2011-12 season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League.

Injuries to Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek necessitated his promotion to the NHL, and Despres had an assist and a plus-2 rating in his debut, a 2-1 road win against the Washington Capitals on Dec. 1, 2011.

He spent December with the Penguins and scored his first NHL goal Dec. 17 against the Buffalo Sabres. Despres was returned to the AHL on Jan. 1 but was recalled throughout the season and got into five more NHL games. He finished with a goal, three assists and a plus-5 rating in 18 games.

He also made his Stanley Cup Playoff debut, scoreless with a plus-2 rating and two penalty minutes in the final three games of the Penguins' first-round playoff series with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Despres, 21, received a more extensive NHL look this season. After playing in the AHL during the lockout, he earned a spot on the Penguins' opening-night roster, and in 33 games had two goals, five assists and a plus-9 rating that was third in the League among rookie defensemen. He averaged 15:06 of ice time per game, up from the 14:13 he played last season.

He also got into three games in the Penguins' first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders, averaging more than 11 minutes of ice time per game.

"Despres has been one of the Penguins' top young defense prospects since he was drafted in 2009," staff writer Corey Masisak said. "They have a lot of them, because it has been an organizational strategy to collect them like hockey cards, but Despres still rates as one of the best and he's making an impact at the NHL level. He has elite skating ability and is probably going to settle in as a No. 2 or No. 3 defenseman once he's all grown up. Teams love defensemen who can skate and have offensive instincts, so I suspect he will have a long career."

Voting: Simon Despres, Pittsburgh (2009) 6; David Steckel, Los Angeles (2001) 3; Rickard Rakell, Anaheim (2011) 2; Jim Slater, Winnipeg (2002) 1; Brock Nelson, New York Islanders (2010) 1

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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