ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - Defenseman Simon Despres agreed to a five-year, $18.5 million contract extension with Anaheim on Friday, punctuating his remarkable six-month rise with the Ducks.
Despres has been an outstanding contributor to the Ducks’ lineup since the club acquired him in a trade with Pittsburgh on March 2. Despres would have been a restricted free agent next summer, but Anaheim general manager Bob Murray made sure his surprising find is bound to the team through 2021.
“I’m happy it’s done,” Despres said after practice Friday. “I’m happy for me and my wife. It’s going to be an exciting time for the next five years, and I’m looking forward to winning a couple of Stanley Cups.”
The 24-year-old Despres quickly won a regular spot in Anaheim’s lineup with physical two-way play after his arrival in a trade for veteran defenseman Ben Lovejoy, scoring six points in the Pacific Division champions’ final 16 regular-season games.
Despres then stepped up in the playoffs, logging significant minutes as a top-four defenseman for a Stanley Cup contender. He scored seven points in the postseason while the Ducks fell one game short of the Stanley Cup Final.
“We’ve just touched the surface of his play,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He’s big and strong, and he’s still growing into his body. He was a very good offensive defenseman (who) turned into a good defensive defenseman, and now if you can (combine) both of those things, I think you’ve got something special.”
Despres was a first-round pick in 2009, and he shuttled between the Penguins and their AHL affiliate for three seasons. He worked on changing his playing style from his offensive-minded game in his junior days to a physical, defense-first approach in the NHL.
Pittsburgh eventually gave up on his potential and moved him to reacquire the veteran Lovejoy, whose own play slipped during his final season with Anaheim.
Despres is a part of a tantalizing young core of talent on the blue line in Anaheim along with Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen and Cam Fowler, Despres’ normal defensive partner. Lindholm and Vatanen also are scheduled to be restricted free agents next summer.
“It’s a great team, great city, great fans, great environment to play hockey,” Despres said. “I’m very pleased to play here a long time.”
The three-time defending Pacific Division champions open the regular season at San Jose on Saturday night. Anaheim will be the last team in the NHL to play its season opener.
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