For an update about how Simon Despres, one of the Penguins top prospects is doing, we went right to the best hockey blog possible for this- Station Nation. They cover all things St. John Sea Dogs and are enjoying one of the strongest teams in all of Canadian Juniors. The Sea Dogs just steamrolled their way past the first round of the QMJHL playoffs and are looking to make a run at the Memorial Cup.
If their season ends before the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are eliminated, Despres is likely to join his pro organization for what's left of the AHL playoffs. But how are things going in Canada? Let's take a look at the interview..
Pensburgh: The Saint John Sea Dogs have an amazing record, putting them head and shoulders above the rest of the teams in the standings for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. To an American fan focused on the NHL, can you quickly summarize the season? What are the Sea Dogs strengths and how have they complied the amazing record?
Jamie @ SN: Going into the season, everyone knew they had a good team but it would be very difficult to repeat last season's performance that saw the team lose in six games in the President's Cup Finals. They lost their two best offensive guns in Penguins prospect Nick Petersen and Senators prospect Mike Hoffman as well as Ducks prospect Marco Cousineau who was their No. 1 goaltender. But their core of returning players - many of them draft eligible this season - has been the big story for Saint John. Guys like Jonathan Huberdeau, Zack Phillips, and Stanislav Galiev filling the big holes left on offense has put the Sea Dogs back on top. With such a turnover due to players graduating, it's very rare to have consecutive seasons with 50 wins, over 100 points, and a regular season title. The amazing part out of all of this success is that the Sea Dogs' target "go for it" year is next season when the club hopes to host the Memorial Cup national championship (announced on Thursday).
Saint John rolls all four lines and everyone gets their share of playing time. All four lines are capable of scoring. The defense often gets overlooked because the Dogs score five goals on a nightly basis, but the team did allow the fewest amount of goals against this year.
Can you please talk a little about the play of Simon Despres this season? On paper we can see that the basic stats look impressive. He's set a career high with goals, his points/game rate is improving. Has he been as impressive for someone that's watched? Is he the #1 guy on defense, getting the tough minutes? What's his role this season been and has it differed from years past?
Despres has been one of the league's best defenseman this season and has been solid all year. You can tell he is that extra step above most other d-man in the QMJHL by watching him play. He is very calm with the puck and is a good decision maker. He has been impressive this season and has done what was expected of him.
Saint John's defense core is really solid this year. But Despres definitely leads the pack and gets a ton of ice time. He is dominate in just about every situation and is used everywhere. He seems more comfortable in the offensive zone this season as well compared to past years.
After the jump, the rest...
What specifically might you point out an area in Despres' game that you've noticed improvement over the past 12 or so months?
I'd say a little bit of everything. The long stay at Penguins training camp and then playing for Team Canada at the world juniors was huge. Playing at such a high level for a lengthy period of time has made him that extra bit faster in everything he does.
Conversely what areas might Despres need to continue to focus on? Has he been a true "man amongst boys" this season or is there any areas where you think he could grow his game in the future?
The knock on Despres has always been that he is not overly physical with his play. That's not to say he won't battle for the puck, but he isn't a guy who will try to make an impact by applying some big hits. It hasn't really hurt him at the junior level and he still dominates, but in pro hockey he might have to take it up a notch.
Saint John has several terrific NHL draft eligible players. Pittsburgh figures to pick in the bottom third of the 1st round, can you offer brief scouting reports of some of the potential guys who might be available around that time or possibly picks later in the draft?
Jonathan Huberdeau, who at 17 produced 105 points, is definitely the best of the bunch and will likely go in the top 10. Offensive defenseman Nathan Beaulieu is figured to be a mid-first round pick and will probably be gone by then as well.
Forwards Zack Phillips and Tomas Jurco will probably be available when the Pens pick. Both are projected as late first round, early second round picks. Phillips is probably one of the lesser known high end players available. He is a solid offensive forward and is very good on the Saint John power play. His chemistry with Huberdeau has made for some beautiful goals and assists this season.
Jurco is the YouTube superstar who has unreal skill. The Slovakian isn't very physical, and, like most players his age, will have to bulk up a bit. One of the other things he has lacked has been consistency as he'll frequently go on a hot streak and then go quiet for several games.
Finally, what's the hope among Sea Dogs fans for the playoffs? Apologies for making you look so far ahead (when we all know anything can happen in the playoffs) but Is it a good showing in the Memorial Cup or will it be considered a disappointment?
After losing in the final last year and the a having one of the best regular seasons in Canadian Hockey League history this year, not winning the Quebec League title would be considered a disappointment for sure. I don't want to say not winning the Memorial Cup would be a disappointment, but after being ranked No. 1 in Canada for so long this season I would hope for a fairly good showing.
For more about St. John and Despres, be sure to check in with Station Nation to see how far the Sea Dogs can go!