“Like any young kid, one year makes a huge difference with confidence, maturity and just the way that he looks,” Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. “He understands nutrition. He understands conditioning. You can see the transformation in his body in one year. When you try to forecast in five years what that big body is going to look like, that’s pretty exciting to think about.”

Despres has also improved considerably on the ice. The 18-year-old was a stalwart on the blue line for Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, setting career highs across the board in goals (9), assists (38), points (47), plus-minus (plus-26), power-play goals (4) and game-winning goals (4). He chipped in an eye-popping 19 points (2G-17A) in just 21 postseason contests for the Sea Dogs.