March 23 2008 05:45PM
He's been written off as finished by some fans, but considering Marc Pouliot is two months shy of his 23rd birthday, is it a stretch to suggest he's just getting started?
Pouliot doesn't think so. More important, neither do the Edmonton Oilers, who drafted him 22nd overall from the then-abysmal Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL in 2003.
As Pouliot approaches the five-year anniversary of his draft date, he hasn't made the big splash many members of his draft class have, but does that mean he's done?
Judging by how he's played since being recalled from Springfield of the AHL, it doesn't look that way. With a goal and an assist in Saturday's 7–5 win over Colorado, Pouliot's scored 1-5-6 in nine games since being summoned.
That's a stark contrast to the goose-egg, nada, nothing Pouliot had in nine games to start the season before the Oilers sent him to the minors, convincing know-it-alls to deem him more suspect than prospect—mea culpa on that count.
Not so fast.
"I've felt pretty good," Pouliot said of his latest audition. "I think I'm an improved player compared to the beginning of the year.
"It was tough not to stay. Obviously, I didn't play as well as I wanted, but I didn't quit. I worked hard. Bucky (Kelly Buchberger) helped me a lot... his mentality is you work hard. He's right. If you do that, do the little things, you improve your all-around game."
The NHL, for whatever reason, has a habit of eating its young. Players, particularly first-round picks, who don't make a significant impact by age 22 or 23 are often cast aside—traded, not re-signed, buried in the minors as roster filler.
With just 72 NHL games on his resume, Pouliot has been flirting with that fate through circumstance and his inability to seize the opportunities he's been given.
It looked like he'd broken through late in the 2005–06 season, only to have mononucleosis knock him out of the line-up just as the Oilers began their charge to the Stanley Cup final.
Pouliot's struggled to regain his place in the prospect pecking order since. Along the way, he's seen 18-year-old Sam Gagner and 20-year-old Andrew Cogliano zip past him. He's a restricted free agent this summer.
"Some players need more time," Pouliot said. "Maybe some people thought I was done, but never me, no. I know if I play my best hockey, I can play here with those guys."
While Pouliot had 45 goals and 114 points with Rimouski while playing on a line with Sidney Crosby in 2004–05, he's never going to be an offensive dynamo in the NHL.
But he's got enough gamesmanship and checks well enough to be a reliable third-line player. He has enough offensive upside to move up into the top six in a pinch. He can play in this league.
"He's got to fill a role for himself," said coach Craig MacTavish, who has moved Pouliot to left wing from centre on a line with Marty Reasoner and Fernando Pisani.
"That's how you get in the NHL. You start small, be productive in the role you're given within the framework of the team and try to expand on it. He's in the process of doing that now."
Pouliot is no quitter. Anybody who remembers how brutal Rimouski was in 2002–03 before Crosby came along knows that. The Oilers aren't quitting on him, either.
That's a good thing.
Sick like Savard
David Staples at the Cult of Hockey says Ales Hemsky's magnificent three-assist performance against Colorado made him think of Guy Lafleur.
"Personally, I think the more valid hyperbolic comparison for Hemsky is Guy Lafleur," wrote Staples after somebody suggested Hemsky was Gretzky-esque Saturday. "That's who Hemsky reminds me of in those games when he winds it up and rockets down the ice as if he were riding on the roar of the crowd."
For me, it's got to be Denis Savard.
Lafleur, who finished his career with 560 goals and six 50-goal campaigns, was more of a shooter off the wing than Hemsky, often uncorking a wicked slapper after getting a stride on a desperate defenceman.
Savard, meanwhile, scored 473 goals and never once hit 50, but he had 865 career assists, reaching 50 helpers nine times. He tied opponents in knots with his ability to dash, dart and change directions.
That behind-the-back drop pass to Gagner in the slot for the 2–0 goal was sweetly Savardian, without the spin-a-rama.
—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm on Total Sports with Bob Stauffer on Team 1260.