Pouliot: Possession over production

Jason Gregor
July 07 2014 12:46PM

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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

Developing-Defencemen_Offensive-Tactics-3

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.

Recently by Jason Gregor:  

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#1 hallsyoilerforever5
July 07 2014, 12:52PM
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"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." Its extremely refreshing to hear that. I can't wait to see how Pouliot does.

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#2 Racki
July 07 2014, 01:11PM
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From the 2nd round on this year, I paid a lot of attention to the Rangers. Pouliot's name was brought up a lot, in positive regard, by the commentators. I also took great notice at how much battle he had. He really took his game to a new level. Pretty happy to have him here for a half decade.

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#3 meanjoegreen
July 07 2014, 12:52PM
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Those are some expensive Corgis. But the wins will dispel the naysayers.

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#4 Retsinnab5
July 07 2014, 01:08PM
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It's going to take me some time to get over that last name...

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#5 WhattaMike
July 07 2014, 01:48PM
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I've been a fan of the NHL Oilers since day one in "79" and I have noticed over the years that... from when Grtez, Kurri, Mess, Andy, Coffey, etc, had possession of the puck it was a goal coming for the Oilers so many many times.. Ahhh those were the best years of hockey in Edmonton...

Now, these past many years, I have seen the kids of Ebs, Hall, Yak, and more players from before... stay way up too high in the defensive zone and the only guys to fight for puck return possession was mainly 1 defenceman as the other was supposed top be in front of the net to help the goalie.

Thats about 3 forwards from the other team to fight off one not very good defenceman from the Oilers a lot of times over and over again while the Oiler forwards/kids were always staying back up by the blue lines so as to hopefully receive a breakout pass. No wonder the other teams got grittier and scored down low many times against the Oilers. Gagner, as a centre was particularly caught out of the defense help zone so many times as other teams players were undefended against.

I like there now being Perron, Pouliot, Purcell, and Hendricks, along with now better NHL calibre defencemen... and a coach named Ramsay... on the Oilers... so as to show the kids how to play two way hockey as well as keep the offence going strong. Should be a much better season than last (as also the last 7 yrs before that) and I am thinking the Oilers can and should be fighting for 7th to 8th spot all year this time finally...

I am in Pouliot's corner for him to have a great year as it takes one season at a time.... no matter what his contract is for now... Go Oilers!!!

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#6 Dman09
July 07 2014, 02:05PM
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You know I was a little surprised when the Oilers signed him so quickly. So looking thru his stats and watching video of his play I honestly think there is the potential for him to be a second line guy if hes with higher caliber players like say Draisaitl and Yakupov. He has the size and skill to play the Ryan Smyth role in front of the net. I think this was a pretty good bet by MacT. At worst you have a good third liner but there is the potential to be a second liner if he gets some chemistry going with higher level players. Call him this team's Chris Kunitz.... Possibly

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#7 camdog
July 07 2014, 03:26PM
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@pkam

We were really lucky last season that Clarkson didn't take up Mact's offer. MacT may have not known it at the time, but getting Gordon instead, was a win.

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#8 Quicksilver ballet
July 07 2014, 02:33PM
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Having better puck possession players means one thing. If you have the puck longer/more often, you don't need to be concerned about your D deficiencies. The best defense, is being stronger offensively.

The tide is slowly turning for this team. Add a Sean Couturier, and they could head into this season full of pi$$'n vinegar again. Cranking your opponent in the head while still maintaining possession is highly under rated. That spunk hasn't happened here in almost 20 years.

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#9 pkam
July 07 2014, 03:57PM
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Qwerty wrote:

Is it me or does this guy sound alot like Paajarvi?

I think the following sentence sum up their major difference:

"They signed him mainly due to his possession numbers and his willingness to check aggressively in the defensive and offensive zones. "

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#10 pkam
July 07 2014, 03:10PM
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Although I think we overpay quite a bit to sign him, I have to admit that I am much happier to get him at 4M than Clarkson at 5.5M any day. Even at the same salary, I'll probably take him over Clarkson.

He is 3 years younger than Clarkson, and 2 years younger at the time of signing (Pouliot signs at 27 and Clarkson was 29). And Clarkson's number wasn't even as good as Pouliot before 27, so hopefully Pouliot can put up 40+ pts the next few years like Clarkson did.

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#11 Mark-LW
July 07 2014, 01:25PM
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Jason,

From Dellow's article on him:52nd amongst NHL F in 5v5 PTS/60, 2010-14 (min. 2000 minutes)

That's pretty good production. http://www.mc79hockey.com/2014/07/oilers-best-free-agency-move-ever/

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#12 The Soup Fascist
July 07 2014, 02:41PM
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Jay wrote:

Not sure what you're talking about?

Not to go all "Columbo" or anything but I think "Uber" may have Marc-Andre Bergeron mixed up with Marc-Antoine Pouliot in terms of the identity of the Hypenated Marc who accidentally took out Rollie in game 1 of SCF 2006.

M.A. Bergeron was the defenceman who crushed our hearts and spirit by unknowingly blindsiding Rollie, not M.A. Pouliot (who if I recall was seated by the popcorn machine in the pressbox).

Easy mistake to make. The way I remember:

M.A.B. was a little guy who tried hard / M.A.P. was a big guy who did not give a rodents rump.

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#13 pkam
July 07 2014, 03:53PM
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camdog wrote:

We were really lucky last season that Clarkson didn't take up Mact's offer. MacT may have not known it at the time, but getting Gordon instead, was a win.

No doubt we have dodged a big bullet. That 7 years at 5.5M contract can literally kill our rebuild.

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#14 Ca$h-Money!
July 07 2014, 04:45PM
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We paid Pisani $2.5 million for 4 years when the cap was $44 million.. which coincidentally is exactly the same % of the cap as the Pouliot deal. I think Pouliot today is a better player than Pisani was then, plus Pisani was 30 at the time whereas Pouliot is 27, and Pouliot is bigger.

Just for fun, I did the same math with Horcoff's contract. It's the equivalent of paying $7.6million today..

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#15 Rama Lama
July 07 2014, 04:48PM
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He kind of reminds me of Ethan Moreau........except with a little more speed and skill.......if this turns out to be the case, I don't really care how big his contract is.

Bottom line is teams win because of players like this!

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#16 ubermiguel
July 07 2014, 04:59PM
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SRELIOFAN wrote:

I think he confused Pouliot with Marc-Andre Bergeron who, as we all remember, injured Roli during the cup final.

You got it, yikes that's a facepalm moment on my part. I'll go get a coffee refill so I'm less of a dumbass.

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#17 dohfOs
July 07 2014, 02:40PM
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great post Gregor.

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#18 BingBong
July 07 2014, 01:39PM
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Mark-LW wrote:

Jason,

From Dellow's article on him:52nd amongst NHL F in 5v5 PTS/60, 2010-14 (min. 2000 minutes)

That's pretty good production. http://www.mc79hockey.com/2014/07/oilers-best-free-agency-move-ever/

Interesting read, thanks for the link.

I think most of us are a little unsure what to expect from Pouliot, so it should be fun to watch him this year. Same goes for Fayne.

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#19 SRELIOFAN
July 07 2014, 02:48PM
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Jay wrote:

Not sure what you're talking about?

I think he confused Pouliot with Marc-Andre Bergeron who, as we all remember, injured Roli during the cup final.

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#21 Jay
July 07 2014, 02:30PM
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@ubermiguel

Not sure what you're talking about?

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#22 Hijinx
July 07 2014, 06:24PM
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@Ca$h-Money!

Thanks for the Horcoff reminder *facepalm

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#23 Qwerty
July 07 2014, 03:51PM
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Is it me or does this guy sound alot like Paajarvi?

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#24 ubermiguel
July 07 2014, 02:16PM
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Retsinnab5 wrote:

It's going to take me some time to get over that last name...

I know what you mean, everytime he gets near our goalie I will cringe just due to that nameplate.

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#25 Casey
July 07 2014, 09:28PM
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He dosen't have great Offence yes. Does he bring a physical edge and size to compete in the pacific? Yes. Can he play defence? Yes. Let the kids handle the offence while Pouliot, and Purcell handle the physical and defensive aspects(while putting up some offence). Offence isn't everything. As long as Pouliot fills a need than we are a better team. The only reason he would be a disappointment is if he was played on line 1. He is a perfect player to employ on a 3 scoring line team. He brings something that our team has lacked. If he is physical,defensive, and chips in enough points as a 3rd liner than I would consider his acquisition a win

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#26 Maurey
July 07 2014, 02:49PM
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I've read in a couple places that Pouliot has played center in the past. Does anyone know how much and if he can be effective? I also noticed he has been pretty decent on faceoffs. Any chance of the Oilers playing him at 2C? It would dramatically change the makeup of the team but may work quite well. I'd also like to see them get rid of Hendricks for a 3rd/4th liner with at least some offence to save a few bucks. Hendricks and Fasth to NYI for Chad Johnson? It would save them 3.45M and NYI has lots of cap space and needs a body on LW.

LW/C/RW.

Hall / Nugent-Hopkins / Eberle.

Perron / Pouliot / Purcell.

Yakupov / Arcobello / Setoguchi.

Galiardi / Gordon / Mueller.

Joensuu / Lander / Gazdic

Galiardi and Pouliot are LW that have played C.

Arcobello & Lander are C that can play RW.

Mueller is RW that has played C.

Galiardi, Setoguchi and Mueller could be signed at a very low cost I think 1.0M to 1.5M each? Plus, they've all shown some good offence in the past and could play up and down the lineup as needed.

That gives you lots of C options to compete for 2 openings and shuffle around to see what works without bringing Draisaitl (or Yakimov) into the conversation unless he blows everyone away during his 9 game stint.

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#28 Hockeyfan
July 07 2014, 09:48PM
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Now if only they start counting Corgis on the scoreboard instead of goals, the Oilers will be all set.

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