Defenseman Simon Despres was a healthy scratch for the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, as they downed the Washington Capitals 4-3 for their team-record 13th straight home win. It was the third consecutive game in the press box for the 22-year-old former first-round draft pick.
Despres probably won’t be sitting out any games in the near future, but that’s because he was reassigned to the Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Thursday morning, along with recent call-ups Nick Drazenovic and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond.
Despres, who has four assists in 18 NHL games this season, was likely sent down to clear a path for the return of one of the team’s blueline anchors. Paul Martin has missed 25 games with a broken tibia he sustained Nov. 25, but the 32-year-old minutes-eater has been skating regularly and could be removed from the injured reserve any day.
As for Despres, who evidently doesn’t rate as one of the top seven defensemen on the club, it could feasibly be the end of his career in Pittsburgh. Along with the players currently on the NHL team, the organization has blueline prospects like Brian Dumoulin, Philip Samuelsson, Harrison Ruopp and Scott Harrington climbing the depth chart.
The rise of those youngsters could make Despres a trade casualty, especially with the Penguins reportedly in the market for a top-six winger to replace the injured Pascal Dupuis. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review‘s Rob Rossi tweeted that coach Dan Bylsma, general manager Ray Shero and player development boss Bill Guerin consulted after Wednesday’s game – perhaps regarding Despres’ future.
Despres has shown flashes of high-end skill and puck-possession ability in 69 NHL games. He skated in 33 matches last season, including three playoff contests, but has never been able to ingratiate himself with the Penguins coaches. Despres has struggled with the defensive side of the game at times, which has compromised his standing in the organization.
Despite all this, he could be back in Pittsburgh soon if another defenseman goes down with an injury. The first-place Penguins don’t play again until Monday, when Florida comes to Consol Energy Center.