Every year that Penguins defenseman Simon Despres has played organized hockey, his team has gone on to play in the postseason.
That includes four straight trips to the playoffs with the Saint John Sea Dogs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, one trip to the AHL playoffs with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2011-12 and finally a trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs last season with Pittsburgh.
Defense - PIT
Goals: 0 | Assists: 0 | Pts: 0
Shots: 8 | +/-: +3
If the steady play of Despres since his recall on Nov. 27 is any indication of where this Penguins team is headed, that streak will continue in April.
Despres, 22, has played a key role at even strength and on special teams in four games with the Penguins. And even though he has not recorded a point, Pittsburgh just keeps winning.
“I love winning,” Despres said. “I have always been on winning teams. It is fun. Everything is better when you are winning. And that is what we try to do every game, just keep a competitive atmosphere and win games.”
Despres made his season debut on Nov. 27, a 6-5 shootout victory over Toronto. Including that night, the Penguins have reeled off four-straight wins and Despres has been outstanding while filling the void left by injured defensemen Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi.
“I think I have been playing good defensively,” Despres said. “Consistency was a key for me when I was sent down. They wanted me to play really well consistently. I think that is what I have been doing since my call up to Pittsburgh.”
The former first-round pick was sent to Wilkes-Barre following training camp to work on refining the defensive aspects of his game. The organization knew when they drafted him 30th overall in 2009 that Despres would bring an offensive element on the back end, but consistently performing in his own zone was something head coach Dan Bylsma and his staff wanted to see more of.
“He has shown he can defend,” Bylsma said. “Two years ago against Alex Ovechkin in a call-up game he played really well. It really is the consistency of doing that game in and game out, shift-to-shift against good players. It is not just defending. It is doing it with the puck, and executing. And that has really been something he has done really well this year in Wilkes-Barre. They rave about the consistency in his game in a defensive, shutdown role for Simon.”
The consistent play at a high-level was also evident in the statistics Despres put up prior to joining Pittsburgh this season. Despres was tied for the AHL lead in plus-minus rating (+13) while playing in only even strength and penalty kill situations, and recorded 11 points in 17 games under the tutelage of head coach John Hynes.
“My first instinct right now is be in position defensively,” Despres said. “I am better at reading the play and knowing when to jump in rushes. Just little stuff like that in my third year I have developed. Being consistent throughout the year is what separates the AHLers from the NHLers, and that is what I am trying to do.”
Despres is doing the right things paired with Matt Niskanen on the back end, as the Penguins are 33-7 in games No. 47 has suited up for dating back to last season.
The Laval, Quebec-native knows the winning pedigree and improved consistency aren’t enough to hold down a spot on a crowded blue line, but he is ready to fight for it.
“There is no relaxing,” Despres said. “No guarantee that I will be in the lineup. I have to prove it every day and every game. Just keep trying to help the team win.”