Like a jab to the solar plexus, the sobering news of Olli Maatta's ailment unexpectedly hit us all this week. But out of crisis, even small ones, lies opportunity. The opportunity to step up and take on the crucial minutes that Maatta has been playing should fall to Simon Despres.
For the past several seasons Despres has been a bit of a maddening figure to most Pens fans. He showed flashes of the talent that made him a first round selection in 2009, but he seemingly could never crack the lineup for long periods of time. It appeared to most fans that he was in someone's dog house, whether it was Dan Bylsma's, or Ray Shero's was not always clear. He always had the ability to make a stupid mistake at a critical time that would cost the Penguins. And as a reward for his efforts he seemed to find himself stuck in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, or as a healthy scratch for large portions of the season.
Fast forward to this season, and Despres is suddenly not only out of the doghouse, but he is sleeping on the couch at night. His minutes are up, he is making a positive impact on the team's scoresheet, and appears to have the confidence of his teammates. According to this article by Dejan Kovacevic, Despres teammates are quick to praise the maturity and growth he has shown this season, and as an aside Fleury thinks he has a "big butt".
But to me the most telling portion of the DK article is what he does not tell us, and is not attributed to any particular player.
He does belong. He has the unwavering faith of this management and coaching staff — Mike Johnston took a liking to him even before camp started based on his summer workouts — and he also has … not sure how to word this … let’s just say he’s got more support from his current teammates than he had from some no longer here.
Who was the player(s)who did not support Despres? Speculation is running rampant, but if I was to be placing bets I would have to say Brooks Orpik, and/or Deryk Engelland. Why you ask? Well who had the most to lose by the emergence of Simon Despres? And to narrow it down even further I would say it was more likely to be the former #44. Which only adds to the interest in the Caps December visit to Consol.
It is this writer's opinion that the following month could solidify the Despres place on this team, and could alter the course of the Pens future on the blue-line. If he plays well the Penguins will have a young core of Despres, Maatta, and Letang locked up for the next several years. If any of the other youngsters are close to ready in the next several years the Penguins will have the financial flexibility to add depth to other areas of the roster. Good luck Simon, the eyes of Pensburgh are upon you.