One of Edmonton’s few success stories from last year was
Benoit Pouliot. He was targeted, I believe, in large part for his impact on
possession and he delivered not only there but also on the scoreboard. He ultimately went 58GP, 19-15-34 on the season. If not
for injury Pouliot would have surely established a new career high in points to
go along with the career high in goals he produced last year. Are
expectations for him going to be too high for this coming season?
Benoit Pouliot is the kind of player that does a lot of
little things really well. Taken one at a time these little things don’t seem all that impressive.
Taken as a whole and those little things add up to a very effective player. One of
the problems for Pouliot, especially early in his career, is that as a former fourth overall pick he wasn’t being judged on the little things that he does well. He was being judged
on offensive output which left some wanting. Not only was he producing point totals in the low 30’s, it
took him a while to establish himself in the NHL.
There’s no doubt that his limited offensive production
played a role in him bouncing around to five different teams in five consecutive
years. Fair or not, his lack of offense contributed to several teams not
believing he was part of the long term solution to their problems (and one of
those teams was the Chiarelli-run Bruins).
Maybe it’s part of the fancy stats revolution, or maybe it’s just MacT believed he saw something that others didn’t, but the club took a leap of
faith and went all in on Pouliot last summer, giving him a five year deal at four million dollars per season.
When I mention the fancy stats and Pouliot it’s because he’s
one of the players that was identified by possession metrics like Corsi as a
potential driver of possession. For just a glimpse into what I’m talking
about, here is how Pouliot ranked among forwards on his respective team in Corsi
for percentage relative to his teammates as per Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com over
the last five seasons.
2014-2015 Oilers – 3rd
2013-2014 Rangers – 2nd
2012-2013 Lightning – 1st
2011-2012 Bruins – 6th
2010-2011 Canadiens – 2nd
So he was first, second, or third in this metric for all but one of his last five stops. It’s a level of consistency that is pretty impressive. When we venture
to judge Benoit Pouliot we shouldn’t forget that one of the biggest reasons the
Oilers went out to get him is because the puck is in the right side of the rink
more often when he plays.
I say that because last season Pouliot shot the lights out
and found himself on the top line of the club, but replicating that level of success
could prove difficult. The first real experience that Oiler fans have with
Benoit Pouliot has been with him at his best offensively. That could paint some
expectations moving forward that might be difficult to overcome.
The first year Oiler set a new career high in personal
shooting percentage in 2014-2015 with 18.1% on 105 shots in 58 games. We’re
talking about what amounts to roughly a 27 goal pace for a player whose
previous career high was 16 goals.
When the play was 5v5 Pouliot had a team-high 16.46%
individual shooting percentage. On the 5v4 power play that number jumped to
Over the four seasons prior to that, those numbers were predictably
lower. Pouliot at 5v5 from 2010 to 2014 had a shooting percentage of 10.64%. On
the 5v4 power play over that same time, he shot 19.57%.
Now, those numbers for Pouliot over the last several years
aren’t bad. Not at all. In fact his points per 60
minutes has been pretty darn good for a while. A large degree of his increased overall production also comes from the Oiler winger playing 16+ minutes a night as opposed to
the 11-13 minutes he was getting elsewhere. That said, we still shouldn’t expect
Pouliot to maintain the sky high percentages he was putting up last year. We
should expect solid even strength production. We should expect him to continue
positively impacting possession. We should also be prepared for the goals in
particular to drop off.
If a drop off in production doesn’t happen then that’s fantastic,
but if we’re being reasonable then we shouldn’t be upset come December if
Pouliot is well off the pace he was on the year before. This isn’t an article
to suggest Pouliot doesn’t belong on a line with RNH or that he isn’t capable
of scoring 25+ goals this coming year. It’s all possible. We should just temper
expectations with players whose personal shooting percentage skyrocketed the