2008-09: Simon Despres was one of the top rated draft-eligible North American skaters going into the 2008-09 season but injured his hip in December and played on it through the season as well as at the World U18s, causing his draft stock to plummet. His limited offensive output, two goals and 30 assists surely didn't help. The Penguins, who were familiar with Despres because he was a teammate of Penguin prospect Alex Grant, were more than happy to select him 30th overall.
2009-10: Following a standout performance in training camp, Despres was inked to an entry-level deal and returned to the QMJHL. Playing top-pairing minutes for the Saint John Sea Dogs, the defenseman emerged as one of the top defensemen in the QMJHL, managing nine goals and 38 assists while consistently paired against top opposing forwards. He was even more prolific for the Penguins in the post-season, managing two goals and 17 assists in 21 games.
2010-11: With seven defensemen already on NHL contracts, the Penguins returned Despres to the QMJHL for his overage season. The defenseman clearly benefitted from the additional time in the CHL as he managed 13 goals, and 28 assists, and a plus-29 in only 47 games. Making those stats all the more impressive is the fact he was primarily matched against the opposition's top forwards. Despres also had an impressive playoff run with St. John, managing four goals and eight assists in 19 games while providing a steadying presence from the blue line. Despres also was a key shutdown defensemen for the Sea Dogs in the 2011 Memorial Cup, where he managed a goal and plus-three rating in three games.
2011-12: Despres started the season for the Penguins AHL affiliate playing primarily in their second-pairing. However, as injuries gradually ravaged the Penguins NHL roster, Despres was pressed into NHL duties and did not disappoint. Though he was eventually returned to the Penguins minor-league affiliate, he finished with a goal and three assists in 18 NHL regular season games. Despres was once again pressed into NHL duties when the Penguins lost NHL defenseman Paul Martin for the playoffs. Though he managed no points in the post-season and averaged 9:18 in ice time, Despres demonstrated poise and awareness beyond his years. He was eventually returned to the AHL for the post-season, where through 10 games, he managed a goal, an assist, and plus-two rating.
2012-13: Despres skated in 33 of 48 regular season games and played three playoff games for Pittsburgh and was one of the top defensemen for the Penguins' AHL affiliate during the NHL lockout. The 21-year-old scored 2 goals with 5 assists and was +9 with 20 penalty minutes; averaging 15 minutes per game of ice time with Pittsburgh. In three playoff games during Pittsburgh's first round series with the Islanders he had no points nor penalty minutes; averaging 11 minutes of ice time. Skating in the AHL prior to the NHL season he scored 4 goals with 3 assists in 27 games and was -5 with 28 penalty minutes. Wilkes-Barre Scranton finished third in the AHL's East Division and reached the Eastern Conference Finals against Syracuse.
Despres possesses a blend of size and swift, fluid skating ability that makes him a special defensive player. He is also very unique in the sense that while his overall upside is largely unknown, particularly on the offensive side of the puck, he already has the frame, skating, and mental ability to play at the NHL level.
"Simon is interesting in the aspect that as a junior player, [he had] the abilities to do everything on the ice," said Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. "As he turns pro, he is juggling where he fits in terms of being able to add offense, jump into the play, take risk if that's what his offensive game might be, and then be real solid defensively."
Though he will likely never be known as a physical defenseman, Despres has demonstrated a willingness to throw around his huge frame, particularly in delivering occasional bone-crunching hip checks.
Despres will play in the NHL for the 2013-14 season. He projects as a top-four defenseman able to play big minutes in all situations.