Hockey reigns supreme in Canada.
|Simon Despres was Pittsburgh's first-round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. (Getty Images) |
Children growing up in America’s northern neighbor are usually given sticks and skates before they can even walk, so those who show an affinity for the game are carefully watched from a young age.
That being said, Penguins prospect Simon Despres
– born and raised in Laval, Quebec (the largest suburb of Montreal) – has dealt with being under a microscope for most of his life. He’s more or less used to it.
“When you are young, your goal is to play major triple-A hockey, then to play major juniors and then play in the NHL,” he said. “That was the route I was aiming for.”
But even Despres, who has spent the last three seasons with Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), admitted the constant scrutiny that high-profile prospects must endure leading up to the NHL Entry Draft took its toll at times.
“It’s tough,” admitted Despres, who was Pittsburgh’s first-round selection in 2009. “Every game, there’s always at least one scout up there. You’ve got to bring your A game every night because
It’s tough. Every game, there’s always at least one scout up there. You’ve got to bring your A game every night because every game, there’s someone watching. So for sure, when you’re not playing too good, you always get a little worried. But that’s the life. - Simon Despres, on being scouted
every game, there’s someone watching. So for sure, when you’re not playing too good, you always get a little worried. But that’s the life.”
Being watched by family and friends is one thing; being evaluated by people from the National Hockey League is certainly another. But while talking with NHL scouts can certainly cause anxiety, Despres decided to look at the experience in a positive way.
“I was pretty nervous,” he said of his first encounter with an NHL scout. “I didn't know what to expect. But I rather enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun with it and I learned from it.”
He understood they had a job to do, knowing that whoever they chose would be a reflection of the organization. So he tried to make it as easy as possible for them.
“The scouts want to know everything about you because drafting you is a big thing for them,” he said. “So they want to make sure they’re asking you the right questions. They want to know everything they can know about you.”
After dealing with a countless number of scouts in the year leading up to the draft, the 2009 NHL Draft finally arrived. It held special significance for Despres, not only because it signified the end of a long evaluation process, but also because it was being held in Montreal, less than half an hour from his hometown.
|Despres celebrates with family and friends after being chosen 30th overall by the Penguins at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal. |
“It was one of the most beautiful days of my life,” he said. “I had a great time and my family had a fun time. Being in Montreal, I was able to bring a lot of people. I think I had around 50 people there. I just enjoyed it.”
Despres entered the draft ranked No. 8 on Central Scouting’s final list of North American skaters, and many predicted he would go in the top 15 of the first round.
While he ended up being the final pick of the first round – 30th overall – much like he did with the scouting process itself, Despres chose to focus on the positives.
“I know I was projected to go high, but I didn't mind that (I went 30th),” he said. “I just didn't mind if I went lower like I did, I just had fun with it. It was a good experience because, I mean, you only get drafted once.”
Even though there’s a certain amount of relief that comes with being chosen at the draft, Despres knows he’s still under watchful eyes – both from within the Penguins organization and throughout the league.
“You never know in hockey, you know? They’re still watching you,” he said. “We had nine draft-eligible players on our team for the draft this year, so all the teams were watching our games. So they’ve been watching me too. You never know. I know they’re watching still.”