July 1, 2011

Bruins hope to tap into newcomer Pouliot's potential

by Jesse Connolly

Benoit Pouliot had 72 points in his first 183 games for the Wild and Canadiens. (Getty)

Just minutes after an agreement between Michael Ryder and the Stars was confirmed, the Bruins inked Benoit Pouliot to a one-year deal worth $1.1 million.

Pouliot spent a season-plus in Montreal, arriving via trade from Minnesota during the 2009-10 for Guillame Latendresse, a deal that both teams hoped would spark the two underperforming forwards.

For Pouliot, it certainly did. The 24-year-old winger -- selected fourth overall in 2004 by Minnesota behind the likes of Sidney Crosby, Bobby Ryan and Jack Johnson -- had an immediate impact for the Canadiens, tallying 15 times while chipping in nine assists in just 39 games.

However, his penchant for inconsistent production returned in 2010-11, a season in which the 6-foot-3 forward had just 13 goals in 79 games.

The deal is certainly a low-risk move on the part of Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, who sounded confident his coaches can break into all of the untapped potential Pouliot possesses.

"Pouliot is a player that was drafted quite high and this would be his third team," Chiarelli said via conference call. "We like his skill, we like his size, we think he’d fit in with our team. He’s got a good shot off the wing, he’s still young, we feel he’ll develop, and we were happy to get him at that number."

As for exactly where he projects the newcomer to fit into the lineup, Chiarelli believes Pouliot's versatility will keep a number of options open.

"I think he plays more on the left side, but he has played the right side," the GM said of the left-shooting forward. "He played the right side in junior and we’ve see him on both sides. So it gives us some flexibility. Then we’ve got guys that can play both sides, whether it's [Rich] Peverley, whether it’s a guy like [Jordan] Caron, he’ll be battling for a spot. Even 'Marsh' (Brad Marchand) can play all three positions. So it gives us some good flexibility."

Chiarelli also isn't worried about any chemistry issues, a question that was deservedly posed when considering that Pouliot has had a number of confrontations with the Bruins in recent matchups, including their seven-game battle in the conference quarterfinals.

"I think you could maybe name five players, at least, on each team in the Northeast Division that might have been disliked by our players," said Chiarelli. "But on each of those teams, those five players, I’d say most of them would fit into a team when they come. It’s a different dynamic when they come over and are in your locker room.

"The due diligence we did on Benoit is that he’s well-liked. Among other things, that’s what I can tell you. And for that reason, I feel he’ll fit in well with our team."

The deal marks the third time Chiarelli has signed a free agent from Montreal. Ryder was the first in the summer of 2008, followed by Steve Begin the following offseason.