As part of the AnaheimDucks.com annual Player Reviews, we will be featuring a different Ducks player throughout the coming weeks, in numerical uniform number order. Each review will include key stats, a highlight from last season and an outlook for 2016-17.
By Adam Brady | AnaheimDucks.com
Every player has to endure adversity at some point in his career, and for Simon Despres, the 2015-16 season is one he could probably stand to forget.
Despres came into the campaign with high hopes heaped on him following a successful run the previous spring when he came to Anaheim via a deal with Pittsburgh just before the NHL trade deadline. The Ducks sent veteran defenseman Ben Lovejoy to Pittsburgh in the trade, and though Lovejoy was admired by fans here, it was thought by many in the hockey community that Anaheim pulled off a steal. After all, Despres was a 23-year-old former first round pick and a big body (6-4, 218 pounds) with seemingly abundant potential.
The native of Laval, Quebec proved that sentiment soon after arriving in Anaheim, showing his worth as a shutdown defenseman and puck-mover in 16 regular season games and through three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Ducks rewarded him with a five-year contract extension last October, making him a fixture in Anaheim for the near future. “I’m really happy to be here for another five years," said Despres at the time. "It’s a great team, great city, great fans and a great environment to play hockey. I’m very pleased to play here a long time. It’s not something that would’ve worried me. It’s going to be an exciting time for us for the next five years. I’m looking forward to winning a couple of Stanley Cups."
But disaster struck in just the fourth game of the season, October 16 vs. Colorado, when Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie made a leaping hit to Despres’ head midway through the second period, knocking the Ducks d-man from the game. Barrie was nailed with a three-game suspension, but the fallout for Despres was much worse.
He was diagnosed with a concussion that ultimately kept him out more than three months. After a four-game conditioning stint with Anaheim’s AHL affiliate in San Diego, he finally returned to NHL game action January 26 in Boston.
Despres played solidly over the final 28 games of the regular season, locking down opposing forwards while compiling 67 hits and 71 blocked shots for the campaign. He wasn’t as strong in the postseason, saddled with a minus-5 rating as the Ducks were downed by Nashville in seven games in the First Round. It was a disappointing ending to an arduous season for Despres.
Despres, who turns 25 today, heads into 2016-17 with a fresh new outlook, purportedly fully recovered from the head injury that hindered his previous season. He will never be looked to for goal-scoring, but the hard-hitting blueliner will continue to be relied on in a shutdown, puck-moving and penalty-killing role. Who he will be paired with on the blueline remains unknown, but last season he proved comfortable skating with a veteran like Cam Fowler or supporting a youngster like rookie Shea Theodore.
Last season Despres revealed a love of chess to AnaheimDucks.com, a skill that has seemingly served him well in his decision-making with the puck. “What I like about it is the strategy,” he said. “You have to think a couple moves ahead. That’s the way of thinking in life, too. On the ice you have to be a couple moves ahead. In business you have to be a couple moves ahead. Chess is very beneficial for someone in life to learn.”
Despres is under contract in Anaheim for the next four years, and the Ducks hope he remains a mainstay among what has become one of the best young corps of defensemen in the NHL.