Simon Despres just wants to play some defense.

On the surface, getting Despres ice time, even at practices, is significant in Penguins general manager Ray Shero's decision to re-assign the defenseman to the AHL on Thursday.

“We've got a lot of depth,” Despres said.

The Penguins are not blessed with opportunities for even their best prospects when the defense is near full strength. So Despres and forwards Nick Drazenovic and Pierre-Luc Letorneau-LeBlond were sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Drazenovic and Letorneau-Leblond had spent only part of this week with the Penguins. Despres had spent almost two months in the NHL.

However, after playing in 15 consecutive games from Nov. 27-Dec. 27, Despres appeared in only three of the past eight contests, and he was used as a fourth-line winger during a practice this week because of a suddenly crowded defense corps.

That crowd will grow this weekend when Paul Martin, out almost two months with a broken tibia, returns to practice. Martin's return to games, perhaps next week, will give the Penguins their projected top-four defensemen in the lineup for only a third game, presuming no injuries to Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi.

Despres was one of eight defensemen — counting Deryk Engelland, who is on a second stint as a fourth-line winger — on the 23-man roster as of Wednesday.

Despres was the only one of those defensemen who did not need to clear waivers for an AHL assignment.

Coach Dan Bylsma prefers no more than seven healthy defensemen at once because practices are not designed to work with four pairings. A seventh defenseman can rotate with the third pairing.

Bylsma believes that a young defenseman — Despres is only 22 — does not develop properly if he is an eighth defenseman for an NHL club. Robert Bortuzzo barely played last season as the No. 8, but Bylsma has said the biggest challenge for Bortuzzo was getting enough work during practices.