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Despres Place

Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Simon Despres has battled self-doubt over his career because of some questionable coaching by Dan Bylsma but this season, he's been anything but a doubting defensemen.

Daniel Kubus/Getty Images

March 1, 2014.

That's the date, I've circled as the bottom falling out for Simon Despres as a hockey player.

If you don't recall, that's the night the Penguins took a 5-1 beating by the Chicago Blackhawks at Soldier Field.

Despres was penalized just 4:12 into the first period for tripping Marcus Kruger. Chicago wouldn't score on the power play.

In the second period, Despres would get caught again at 2:03 for high-sticking Brandon Saad. Chicago wouldn't score on the power play.

Two penalties, two kills but it didn't matter. The groans by the organization, fans, and media were loud and unrelenting.

Dan Bylsma didn't care as he and others on the staff and organization felt Despres had shown up in terrible shape for training camp and held it against him all season.

Let's fast forward to January 30, 2015.

The Penguins were without Olli Maatta (shoulder) and Christian Ehrhoff (concussion) plus the team was coming off a terrible 4-0 shutout against the Washington Capitals.

Penguins 2, Devils 1.

It was a great win but the two best players that night were defensemen, Despres and Kris Letang.

Letang as I had written previously didn't appear to me to be a Norris Trophy candidate and all he's done since then is put up points and cary this team. Not Crosby, not Malkin and not Fleury.

But make no mistake about it, on Friday night, Letang was great because Despres was right there with him.

Both played 31 shifts.

Letang 28:51, Despres 23:01.

Letang's Corsi For at even-strength was +29 and Despres +24.

The next best defensemen was Paul Martin at +16.

Despres' game winner wasn't anything special, won't be a highlight reel move but you know what, keeping it simple has always been the best for Despres.

The tough love by the organization not allowing him to play the power play in the AHL or forcing him to dump the puck because they wanted him to play defense and play within himself might not be an admitted role in his development by Despres but those tough times and his overcoming them is a strong indicator to me about his work ethic and character.

Friday might have been a great chance for Despres to play with Letang with Maatta and Ehrhoff injured but he's been playing like a top 4 or top pairing defensemen all season, even when playing the majority of his time alongside Rob Scuderi.

According to Own the PuckDespres is proving he's more than a third pairing defensemen.

Despres Own the Puck 013015

By comparison, here's Letang

Letang Own the puck 013015

Then there's Scuderi, as if you needed more evidence that Despres is playing really well...

Scuderi Own the Puck 013015

It hasn't mattered if Despres is getting 18 minutes per game or 23 minutes, he's been playing like a top four defensemen.

The coaching staff has an opportunity to balance the defense if Letang and Despres can continue to play as they did Friday night with Derrick Pouliot and Paul Martin as the second pairing and then Ehrhoff and Scuderi on the third.

The importance of Despres getting his shot is not only for this season but the possible extension for Ehrhoff could be taken off the table as the team could be better off without spending $4-plus million for three to five years. This War on Ice comparison between Despres and Ehrhoff doesn't convince me on the need to have the veteran playing alongside Letang or Maatta.

Despres Ehrhoff War on Ice

Despres needs this chance to prove he's ready, he's done it once, he'll do it again.

Prospect Update

Goaltender Matt Murray seems to be the guy no one wants to talk about, though after being selected by the Penguins, a few people noted more about his friendship with Sidney Crosby than his goaltending skills. This season on a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton team beaten up by injuries and recalls to the NHL, Murray has performed admirably.

Prior to Saturday night's game, Murray was coming off a shutout on Friday to help push his season numbers to 11-7-2, 1.89 GAA, and .926 save percentage.

It is important for the Penguins to see a positive development with Murray as 2013 number one pick Tristan Jarry has struggled (.914 save %) this season for the Edmonton Oil Kings. Jarry's stock might be down because Edmonton's struggles but many goalies need a season or two to develop as a professional, so not all is lost for him.