As Pittsburgh Penguins development camp comes to an end Saturday, the organization locked up one of its prospects whose own development has been somewhat stunted over the years.
The Penguins announced Friday they had signed 2010 first-round draft pick Simon Despres to a two-year contract, thus avoiding salary arbitration with the restricted free agent. The new deal will pay the soon-to-be 23-year-old a total of $1.8 million.
The 6-foot-4 Despres projects to get more of a chance to contribute under new coach Mike Johnston than he ever did during the Dan Bylsma years. For whatever reason, Despres could never gain favor with Bylsma and his staff, despite numerous injuries in recent years that opened up opportunities on the Pittsburgh blueline.
Despres, who had a strong playoff run for the AHL Penguins this spring, has accumulated 16 points (3g, 13a) in 85 NHL games over the past three seasons. His impressive offensive abilities still provide promise, with the Penguins hoping that extensive AHL experience has refined the positional aspects of his game.
Despres joins Scott Harrington, Philip Samuelsson, Brian Dumoulin and perhaps Derrick Pouliot as young defenders who have a legitimate shot at earning a regular role with the Penguins this fall. Samuelsson and Dumoulin saw limited action at the NHL level last season, while Pouliot is wrapping up a sterling junior career with Portland of the Western Hockey League.
In other Friday news, the Penguins announced that former NHL great Mark Recchi has joined the hockey operations staff as a player development coach. Recchi, who skated in three separate stints with the Penguins, racked up 1,533 points in 1,652 games – the latter total ranking him fourth in league history.
In addition to his prodigious production, Recchi also won three Stanley Cups, including one in 1991 with the Penguins. The 46-year-old has worked in Pittsburgh-area youth hockey since retiring in 2011.
Interestingly, Recchi was part of the package that former Pittsburgh general manager Craig Patrick dealt to Philadelphia in 1992 for Rick Tocchet, who is now a Pens assistant coach. In his new role with the organization, Recchi will spend most of his time and effort on minor-league, college and junior prospects, with a focus on skill development.