Benoit Pouliot took a seat last night as the Oilers looked to different men to spark the team and get back into the Win column. Pouliot has been a divisive player during his time in Edmonton, and really over his entire career. He’s known both for his 5v5 offense and for his innate ability to get penalized in the offensive zone, but what’s going on with him this year?
To a good number of people, sitting Benoit Pouliot made as little sense as it made perfect sense to others. That’s because over the course of his career Pouliot has been a quality driver of offense 5v5. In many ways, that’s a weird thing to say about a player who has never cracked 36 points as a career high. Injuries have been an issue for him and so was ice time early in his career.
The Oilers took a risk signing Pouliot to a long-term deal after he bounced around the league as a former 4th overall pick of the Minnesota Wild. It was a risk that fancy stats analysis identified as a potential opportunity to snag a high possession forward with even strength offense. While lots of people in traditional circles raised eyebrows, the stats community really liked the deal.
Before joining the Oilers, the maligned forward had produced at a rate of 1.93 points per 60 minutes 5v5 between 2007-2008 and 2013-2014. During that time he also averaged 7.38 shots per 60 minutes, shot at 11.7%, and had a Corsi For a percentage of 52.5% with a CFRelTM of 2.7%. To give an idea of where he rated offensively in the time period, for all forwards with at least 4000 minutes played in that time period, Pouliot was ranked 67th in the NHL on a per 60 minute basis. People BELOW him on that list were names like Carter, Pavelski, and Marleau.
In his first two seasons with the Oilers, Benoit Pouliot produced at a rate of 1.99 points per 60 minutes 5v5. He averaged 6.30 shots per 60 minutes with a 13.2 shooting percentage and had a Corsi For a percentage of 50.7% and a CFRelTM of 2.7%. His offense 5v5 on a per 60 minute basis was ranked 42nd among NHL forwards with at least 1250 minutes player over that time-frame. Again, people BELOW him on that list were names like Scheifele, Backstrom, and Stamkos.
But what about this year? What has lead us to the point where this player is sitting in the pressbox?
This season Benoit Pouliot is producing at just a 1.11 points per 60 minutes. He is averaging 3.90 shots per 60 minutes and even though he’s shooting 24.3% it isn’t enough. While he has a Corsi For percentage of 51.0%, his CFRelTM is now a -0.2%. Offensively, he’s ranked 142nd among forwards with at least 200 minutes played. He’s now BELOW names like Girgensons, Ritchie, and King.
Edmonton’s $4 million left winger is almost half as productive as his career numbers suggest he should be. He’s shooting the puck almost half as frequently as he has over the course of his career. He’s still a positive shot attempt player, but now we have reason to question how much he’s the one pushing the pace. These are the numbers of a player who deserved to sit for a night.
To bring this back to more traditional numbers, if Pouliot continues at his current point pace, he’s going to finish with 18 points. In the last 10 games that he’s played, he has shot the puck on net just 11 times. He produced exactly 0 points in that stretch. In three of those ten games, he didn’t have a single shot on net and in two of those games he had played more than 18 minutes per night. That’s a lot of ice for someone who isn’t moving the dial.
There is a high degree of frustration with this player at the best of times, right now it is an all-time high. And, it’s deserved. What the Oilers have been getting from Benoit Pouliot this season is not what was promised to them before he signed with the club and what he has delivered over his first two seasons with the Oil.
The disconcerting part of these struggles is that it is not the case that he’s doing all the same things but this time he’s been snake bit. He actually has a sky high 5v5 shooting percentage and it is some fundamental issues that he’s running into. He can’t just keep doing the same things and wait out his percentages to normalize.
However, before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, let’s allow for the possibility that the move by McLellan to bench the player might be the kick in the ass that he needs to get back to playing the kind of hockey he is capable of. Benoit Pouliot can help the Oilers if he can just return to the form he has established over his NHL career. The past performance is there. We know he can be better. Now it’s on him to turn this thing around.