One of the stock questions junior players get asked in their draft year is which NHL player they pattern their game after.
The question was posed to Saint John Sea Dogs defenseman Simon Despres
, and his answer spoke volumes about the confidence he has to compete -- and succeed -- at the next level:
"I don't pattern my game after anyone."
No, the package of size and skill Despres presents to NHL talent evaluators is just fine on its own.
"He's a really consistent player who seldom makes a bad play," Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau told NHL.com. "For a guy that size, he's a real good skater. He's going to be a very strong player on the blue line for quite a few years to come in the NHL."
At 6-foot-3 1/2 and 205 pounds, Despres already has great NHL size. He had just 2 goals and 32 points in 68 games, but scouts believe he has an offensive upside to his game.
And he doesn't hide from physical play.
"It's a physical game and I can punish other players," said Despres. "I'm not scared to do it."
"Simon is a very good skater with and without the puck," said Saint John coach Jacques Beaulieu. "He has good hands for a big man and he has outstanding vision as well as hockey sense. To make it to the next level he will need to improve his upper-body strength and his shot, but overall Simon is an outstanding person on and off the ice. He loves the game. He is without a doubt an NHL prospect."
Despres suffered a painful left hip injury in December that should have sidelined him but he played through. And the Sea Dogs, despite high hopes, finished third in the Atlantic Division and were swept by Cape Breton in the first round of the playoffs.
"We had very high expectations as a team," said Despres. "We went in the other direction and at Christmas and traded all our best players. I was a bit disappointed, but I worked hard all season and did as best I could."
That hard work was noticed by numerous people.
"I've never seen the kid play a bad game," said Bordeleau. "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."
Central Scouting tabbed Despres No. 8 in its final ranking of North American skaters for the 2009 Entry Draft, and he's the top-rated QMJHL player.
"It's only a listing, doesn't mean that much," said Despres. "It means a little bit, but I'm not taking anything for granted. The best players go on the ice at training camp and that's where you have to show what you can do."
By then, Despres should be fully recovered from his hip issue, which started in December and affected him straight through the World Under-18 Championship in Fargo, N.D.
"I was racing for the puck with an opposing player in the corner and we both fell and I hit the corner of the boards with my hip," Despres said. "It carried on since then, the whole season."
He was diagnosed with a bone bruise, and after being hit on the same spot at the U-18 tournament, he learned that his hips were crooked.
"So I was playing at 50 percent in Fargo," said Despres. "I hope it didn't affect me too much for the draft."
Considering he still had 2 assists and a plus-5 rating, tied for second among Canada's defensemen, he should be fine when the draft starts Friday, June 26 (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN, RDS).
"You can't make your judgment off one event," said Bordeleau. "As far as we're concerned we think this kid is going to be a real good player."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.