The Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2009 first-round draft pick, defenseman Simon Despres
, is getting his first taste of the City of Champions as he and 25 other prospects are attending the Penguins week-long conditioning camp.
Like many people’s first visit to the Steel City, Despres’ introduction to Pittsburgh occurred as he exited the Fort Pitt Tunnel and the view of the city opened up to him on the other side.
“It’s beautiful,” Despres said. “We came out of the tunnel. Before that there were trees everywhere and I was wondering where I was going. We came into the city and it was very beautiful. I was astounded.”
Despres was a standout blueliner with Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He’s a strong two-way defenseman with great vision and a good first pass. Despres posted 32 points and 74 penalty minutes in 66 games with the Sea Dogs last season.
The former No. 1-overall pick in the 2007 QMJHL draft joined the Penguins organization when the club selected him in the first round (30th overall) in June’s NHL Entry Draft in Montreal.
“He’s a good young defenseman, good size, good skater with a lot of upside to his game,” general manager Ray Shero said. “It’s tough to get those defensemen and they are very valuable down the line. We added a good asset to our organization.”
“This is a great organization,” Despres said. “I’m very happy to end up here.”
The Laval, Quebec native is using the conditioning camp as an opportunity to meet Penguins coaches, staff and future teammates, as well as showing what he can do on the ice.
I’m very excited to prove myself and make a good first impression. Every time you jump on the ice you want to be the best. You try to be your best. I’m just going to work and learn from all the guys here on how to be a pro. - Simon Despres
“I’m very excited to prove myself and make a good first impression,” he said. “Every time you jump on the ice you want to be the best. You try to be your best. I’m just going to work and learn from all the guys here on how to be a pro. I’m going to have some fun.”
One of the keys to the Penguins' success in building a championship team is their ability to accumulate talent in the draft, particularly in the first round (see Brooks Orpik
, Marc-Andre Fleury
, Evgeni Malkin
, Sidney Crosby
and Jordan Staal
Despres is the latest in a long list of accomplished NHL players to join the Penguins organization. But Despres isn’t afraid of the expectations that come from being a first-round pick.
“I don’t put too much pressure on myself,” he said. “I’m here to have fun, learn and work hard. I take it one day at a time and do not think too far ahead. I’m learning little details everyday like stretching, eating habits and work ethic. That’s going to make a difference in the long run.”
Despres is a raw talent with a ton of upside. He’ll need time to develop his skills and grow into his strong frame before he is ready to join the ranks of the National Hockey League. But he is getting his first taste of pro hockey at the conditioning camp.
And while Despres is making a strong impression on the Penguins organization this week, the city of Pittsburgh is making similar impression on the 17-year-old.
“It’s my first time in Pittsburgh,” Despres said. “I feel like I’m at home. I love it already. I’m very happy to be here.”