Head injuries to defensemen Kris Letang
and Zbynek Michalek
have opened the door for Penguins 2009 first-round pick Simon Despres
to make his NHL debut Thursday (7 p.m. ET, ROOT SPORTS in Pittsburgh, NHL Network throughout the US) against the Capitals here at Verizon Center.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma
confirmed that Despres, the 30th pick of the 2009 Entry Draft who was recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League on Thursday, will be in the lineup against the Caps. Despres will start the game paired with fellow rookie Robert Bortuzzo
, but Bylsma doesn't plan to hide him.
"He is slated to play on the second (power-play) unit and sometimes that is not a whole ton of time on the power play, but he is slated to be out there on the power play," Bylsma said. "He has played 10 or 11 games in exhibition and he's played minutes. I know he's more than capable of playing in a lot of different situations, playing a lot of defense, being able to go back for pucks and make plays. He's had two months of being a professional and developing, and I'm fully confident he can be in a lot of different situations tonight."
Despres, 20, has 3 goals and 4 assists along with a plus-3 rating in 22 games as a rookie this season for the AHL Penguins. All three of his goals were game-winners and his 7 points are tied for the team lead among defensemen.
"A little nervous, but very excited," Despres told NHL.com Thursday morning when asked about his emotions. "It is what I have dreamed all my life. I'm just going to try to do my best to help the team."
Despres said he is familiar with the Penguins-Capitals rivalry because he's been watching it on TV since he was a kid. He said it will be special to play against Ovechkin.
Bylsma sounded as if he's ready to give the kid that chance, even though Brooks Orpik
and Deryk Engelland
will draw most of the even-strength ice time against Ovechkin.
"This is an opportunity with this game and the next game for Simon to show what he can do, and I think it's going to be more than just playing 10 minutes of hockey," Bylsma said. "He can be in a lot of different situations."
Orpik said he would be happy to give advice to Despres and Bortuzzo about playing against Ovechkin, but he doesn't want to fill their heads with minutia.
"I don't think you ever want to bombard them with stuff like that because then they go into the game thinking too much," he said. "You want them to just go out there and just concentrate on playing, let their instincts and natural ability take over. But with a guy like Ovechkin, I'm sure they have watched him on TV and seen enough of him. There are little things you can tell them about stick position, but you just want them to have a clear mind going into their first game."
That shouldn't be a problem for Despres.
"I will just try to take it one day at a time, play hockey, have some fun and enjoy it," he said. "That's all I can do really."Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl