July 07 2014 12:46PM
The Minnesota Wild drafted Benoit Pouliot 4th overall in 2005. He scored 29 goals and 67 points in 67 games in his draft year. He was picked based on his size, speed and the projection that he would continue to develop into a dominant offensive player.
Here was his 2005 scouting report from The Redline Report.
Benoit Pouliot combines size with an elegant, even graceful skating ability that gives him as big an upside as any forward in the draft. Though not yet a finished product, Pouliot has come further, and faster, than anyone in this year's class. With his speed, vision and passing ability, he can play a finesse game, but he also has the power and disposition to get mean and physical with teams that want to play that way.
Pouliot's rapid improvement vaulted him up rankings, but he wasn't a dynamic offensive player when he was drafted, and he likely shouldn't have been taken that high. Often, players who get taken higher than they should end up not meeting the lofty expectations of being a top-five pick, and are labelled "busts."
Had Pouliot been chosen between the 10th-20th picks, the expectations for him as an NHL player would have been significantly lower. Ethan Moreau was the 14th overall pick, and he became a solid 3rd liner for many years. Even though Moreau had scored 44 goals and 100 points in 59 games during his draft year, he never had the same expectations that Pouliot carried being a top-five pick.
Moreau was a solid NHL player and Pouliot has started to develop into one, but for the past seven years he's been looked upon much differently than Moreau was in his first seven NHL seasons. Being a high draft pick can be both good and bad for a player.
HIGH EXPECTATIONS AGAIN
Nine years after being drafted, Pouliot is going to carry more unfair expectations due to his new five-year, $20 million contract. I'm not a fan of signing a third liner player to a five year contract. I think Pouliot can be a very useful player on the team, but long term deals should only go to elite players.
I don't have an issue with the dollar figure, because I understand that UFAs get big money. Good on them. I never blame the player when he gets overpriced contract. We would all
gladly take more money, so if you want to be upset then look at the GM and owner who signed him.
There is no arguing that Pouliot is the type of player the Oilers need. He has size, skates very well, is aggressive on the forecheck and, most importantly, he relishes the opportunity to play against the other team's best players and limit their scoring.
If you are expecting Pouliot to put up big offensive numbers you'll be disappointed. He is coming off a career-high, 15-21-36 season, although he did score 15 goals and 24 points in only 39 games with the Canadiens in 2010. He has scored 15 goals three times, so that is what the Oilers should expect from him.
They signed him mainly due to his possession numbers and his willingness to check aggressively in the defensive and offensive zones. Those who swear by possession numbers have applauded this signing, and it will be a good test to see if he can maintain those numbers when he joins the Oilers.
Over the past three seasons, Pouliot has put up solid possession numbers playing in Boston, Tampa Bay and New York. The Bruins and Rangers were playoff teams, while his short 34 game-stint in Tampa was with the 29th place Lightning, so he has shown he can still be a decent possession player on a losing team.
The Oilers are hoping he can be the same type of player in Edmonton, and Pouliot is confident he can be. He is coming off a very successful season with the Rangers, and he told me he plans to come to Edmonton and play exactly how he did with the Rangers.
"We (his line) mainly wanted to stay in their zone, we did a great job of that; keeping the puck deep," said Pouliot. "And look at where we got, we got to the Stanley Cup finals by just playing that way, playing with possession and the less time spent in our zone, the more games we will win.
"That’s what we strived on coming in and you know the whole league is going that way, possession, possession.. it’s everywhere. Everyone wants that and for me I thrive on it. I’ll be the first one on the puck forechecking, go in the dirty areas in front and just doing my job. I did a good job in New York. My line and the whole team was great and now I’ve got a great opportunity to play with young guys, skilled guys, fast guys, it’s going to be more of the same," continued Pouliot.
LEARNING TO PLAY DEFENCE
Pouliot sounded very similar to Mark Fayne when he spoke about his role and playing defence. It is clear Craig MacTavish wanted to add some players who not only had success against the other team's top players, but relished the challenge.
Unlike Fayne, who was solid defensively in his first NHL season, it has taken Pouliot some time to figure out how to play without the puck.
"I didn’t have that (strong defensive awareness) in the beginning when I got into the league, my D zone wasn’t really good, but then I got better as a two-way player. And now I can say I really, I know how it works. If you play great defensively things are going to happen on the other side too. It’s just a thing I put in my game and I feel comfortable doing that," said Pouliot.
For the past seven years I've heard every young skilled Oilers forward tell me that if they play good defensively the offence will come. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case for most of the players. The Oilers have struggled defensively, which shouldn't be a major surprise considering many of the young players have been forced to play tough minutes before they were prepared to handle them.
Pouliot is 27 years old. He's played almost 400 games and a few years ago he realized if he wanted to stay in the league it would be for his defensive play and aggressive forechecking, not his offensive numbers.
The Oilers need more players to understand what their role is and accept it. MacTavish still needs to find some more pieces, mainly a few centres, but by signing Pouliot and Fayne he's added two players who want to excel at shutting down the opposition.
I asked Pouliot if the Oilers told him to be prepared to play tough minutes and tough competition?
"Yeah, but that’s fine. You know what, I like that, I like that a lot. I think that last year was the same way, we were a third line. They put us out there with the big players, even in playoffs. In Pitts we got stuck against Crosby the whole playoffs and we did great job.
"So I thrive to be good defensively. I like it, I like to be able to get the puck out, have a good stick, or all of the details like that. I don’t mind that, it causes us to go on the forecheck on the offense and after that we take care of business," Pouliot said.
Pouliot seems very aware of his role, and if they play him as a left winger, that's where he's most comfortable, then he should have success.
It will be interesting to gauge his value and success in the coming seasons. He will need to maintain solid possession numbers to make his contract worthwhile, because no one should expect him to put up offensive numbers.
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