As a native of Laval, Quebec, Penguins’ 2009 first-round draft pick (30th overall) Simon Despres
knows the importance Canadians place on international competition.
|Penguins' prospect Simon Despres attended Team Canada's Junior Evaluation Camp during the first weekend of August. |
Outside of winning the Stanley, nothing means more in Canada than donning a red maple leaf sweater during the Olympics, World Championships or World Junior Championships and bringing home a gold medal.
Despres hopes to carry on Canada’s impressive tradition in international competition this December by being one of 22 players chosen to represent Canada at the 2011 World Junior Championships, which will be held December 26 – January 5 in Buffalo, New York.
“That would be a great opportunity for me and a great honor personally,” Despres said. “Any time that you have a chance to represent your country you want to do that. I would love to play on the team.”
Despres’ quest to make Canada’s roster began two weeks ago when he was one of 48 players invited to Hockey Canada’s National Junior Team Summer Development Camp, held the first weekend of August in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
It was the first time that Despres was invited to Canada’s development camp, which left the 6-foot-4, 205-pound blueliner a bit nervous heading into the weekend.
“For some reason I was a little nervous heading into the camp, but after the first period of the first game I got a little bit better,” Despres said. “It’s still summertime so everyone is not at their best shape yet. That said, I just tried to do my best and hopefully that will be enough to get me on the team.”
If Despres played as well at camp as he performed during the 2009-10 regular season for the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), then he should be a strong candidate to hear his name announced when the final rosters are due in early December.
Following a strong training camp with the Penguins last September, Despres returned to Saint John for a third season of junior hockey. In 63 regular-season contests for the Sea Dogs, Despres saw his offensive numbers improve for a third straight season as the left-handed shooting rearguard set career highs across the board with nine goals, 38 assists, 47 points and a plus-26 rating.
Despres was just as strong during the postseason, picking up two goals and 19 points in 21 playoff contests as the Sea Dogs advanced to the QMJHL finals before falling in six games to the Moncton Wildcats.
“Every year I try to get better,” Despres said. “I still have a lot of improving to do to try to get to the next level. There is always room for improvement, so that is what I am trying to do.”
The next step for Despres is to have a dominant final junior season with the Sea Dogs – something that would almost assuredly place him on Team Canada’s World Junior roster.
Making the World Junior squad is always tough because of the large talent pool which exists in Canada. Despres believes he gave a good showing to team evaluators throughout camp, especially during the scrimmages, which he said were highly competitive.
“We went all out during the whole week, and I think I did well under those conditions,” Despres said. “Hockey Canada likes those camps to be very intense. They didn’t really call a lot of penalties throughout the scrimmages, so it got a little chippy. I thought I held my own out there.”
Despres, who suited up for Team Red, spent the first game playing alongside Mark Pysyk, who was the 23rd-overall selection by the Buffalo Sabres this past June. He spent the second game rotating through six other defensemen following an injury to Pysyk.
All things considered, Despres was happy with how his first Hockey Canada experience unfolded.
“It was very fun for me,” Despres said. “They really put us through a hard workout – tough mentally and physically. I thought it went very well.”