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Poise With Puck Helps Despres Stand Out

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Takeaway:

> Simon Despres has played a variety of roles - even-strength, power play and penalty kill.
> Despres' skating and poise have earned him high praise
> Despres continues to work on improving his shot
> Despres hopes to push for a roster spot in Pittsburgh

LONDON, ONTARIO – A couple times a week the Penguins like to conclude their practices by holding a shootout competition. The last man standing – the loser – is then required to do something agreed upon by the group.

Last season, that meant growing mustaches at the beginning of each month, Ben Lovejoy removing his skates and running from the ice to the media level in Florida and Jay McKee parading through the Mellon Arena crowd and high-fiving students during an open practice.

The Penguins held one of these shootouts on Monday at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ontario, and following a competition that seemed as if it was never going to end, defensemen Simon Despres and Reid McNeill were considered co-losers, meaning they had to distribute juice to all the players and coaches post-practice.

“Usually I am good in shootouts,” Despres said. “The ice was terrible out there and I just kept missing.”

For Despres, Monday’s shootout was one of the few instances the Penguins’ 2009 first-round draft pick (30th overall) has missed since rookie camp began last Friday.

Despres has been one of the Penguins’ top performers during the team’s 2-0 start following weekend wins over the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs, excelling at both ends of the ice while logging major minutes at even strength, on the power play and during penalty kills.

“I think it has been good for me so far,” Despres said. “I have been able to get my legs back and jump into game shape. It’s also nice that as a team we have been able to grab two wins.”

Although Despres has gone scoreless offensively, he has been able to show off his tremendous skating stride on several occasions. The 19-year-old has not been afraid to carry the puck, particularly in the neutral zone, where Despres has displayed a strong level of confidence in his skating ability by repeatedly making guys miss as he spearheads the offensive attack.

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First-year Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant coach Alain Nasreddine has been impressed by the poise Despres has demonstrated in London.

“I think the poise he has with the puck for a young kid is pretty impressive,” Nasreddine said. “He has great potential in that area and that is what really stands out to me the most.”

While Despres has always been regarded as a strong skater with the puck, he feels like his overall skating has only improved over the course of this summer, particularly the past month when he and a group of Penguins worked daily on their strides and starts with renowned power-skating instructor Marianne Watkins.

“My skating has always been one of my strongest suits,” Despres said. “I have been further working on it over the past month with Marianne. I feel like it is showing out there.”

Of course, all the skating ability in the world won’t mean a whole lot if a player doesn’t have the confidence to be able to make the plays in game conditions that his skill set suggests he should. Despres has showed that confidence this week.

“If you don’t have the confidence out there then you won’t be able to perform,” Despres said. “If you hesitate at all you will turn the puck over. I think confidence is a good thing for a young player.”

It’s also good for the confidence when the coaching staff has the faith to use you in pressure situations. Thus far the 6-foot-4, 220-pound blueliner has seen major minutes on the penalty kill and late in contests protecting one-goal leads.

“Last year in the playoffs I really played a lot more on the PK,” Despres said. “I had been playing the PK a lot since becoming a junior player at 16, but I have really worked hard to make sure I continue to get better in that element of the game.

“It’s a real confidence booster for me to know that the coaching staff has the faith in me to put me out there late in the game. I am happy for that and am trying to show them what I can do so that I can continue to have those chances when I get to the NHL.”

Besides his struggle in the post-practice shootout on Monday, Despres has also shown he still needs to make some improvements getting his shot through traffic and on net from the point. Several times on Sunday Despres saw Maple Leaf defenders jump in front of chances as he cocked his stick for the big slap shot.

Simon Despres spent Monday's practice working on getting his shots through to the net.
“(Sunday) was a bad day for me shooting-wise,” Despres said. “I had at least eight occasions to shoot and I didn’t get one on net. That was the only negative thing I really took from my game against Toronto. We worked on that in practice and I’m going to continue to do so throughout the year.”

On Monday, Nasresddine had Despres and the team’s other defensemen working on head fakes and quick wrist shots.

“Whether it is Simon or any of our young defensemen, you have to learn to get your shots through to the net,” Nasreddine said. “That’s what we tried to emphasize at practice. I was trying to teach them that it doesn’t have to be a slap shot – just get it there and get it through. The forwards will score on the rebound.”

Despres hopes that work the defensemen put in on Monday, along with another strong game against Chicago on Tuesday, will help him reach the goal he has set for himself when the main camp begins later this week.

“My mindset is to go to Pittsburgh and show them that I can earn a spot this year,” Despres said. “That’s the mindset you need to have because I know it’s not going to be easy.”

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