Simon Despres was once an up-and-coming defenseman in the NHL. A first-round pick by Pittsburgh in 2009, Despres played a key depth role for the Penguins from 2011 to 2015. Although Despres was limited offensively, even in the AHL, he proved himself to be a very dependable presence in his own end. Annually a positive player with strong possession numbers, Despres eventually worked himself into a full-time role with the Penguins in 2014-15. In that season, he also showed off an improved physical game and a superior puck-moving ability. However, it was also in that season that Despres was traded to the Anaheim Ducks, a deadline deal that sent veteran Ben Lovejoy to Pittsburgh. Despres continued to play well for the Ducks down the stretch and was perhaps at the peak of his NHL career in the postseason that year with a dominant stretch. Yet, the rest of Despres’ tenure in Anaheim would not go as well.
In 2015-16, just four games into the regular season, Despres took a hard check to the head from the Colorado Avalanche’s Tyson Barrie. Despres would miss the next 42 games of the regular season and never truly returned to form in the campaign. Despres suited up for Anaheim for the opening game of the 2016-17 season, but concussion symptoms limited him to just that one appearance for the year. Despres was bought out by the Ducks at the end of the season and, at age 25, was considering retirement. Instead, Despres decided to continue his career overseas. Able to finally leave his concussions in the past, Despres had a strong season with HC Slovan Bratislava of the KHL this year. Now, he wants back in the NHL.
Speaking with Jean-Francois Tremblay of La Presse in his native Quebec, Despres states that money is not an issue and that he will do what it takes to get back into the league. He says that he will visit with teams this summer or attend camp on a tryout basis if that is what it takes. He even says he would be open to an AHL contract as a first step, specifically noting that he would not hesitate to accept an offer from the Laval Rocket, the Montreal Canadiens affiliate in his hometown that did not exist when he was in the NHL. Despres goes on to describe how he has changed his diet and lifestyle to get healthier and has even trained in martial arts in an effort to learn how to avoid bad hits and further concussions. He also describes how his time in the KHL has improved his skating and puck possession. It seems Despres has done all he can to work his way back from a potentially career-ending injury and now feels ready for a return. Now all he can do is wait for a team to give him a second chance.