June 4, 2012

Free agent focus: Benoit Pouliot

By Jesse Connolly

In the weeks leading up to July 1, Jesse Connolly will be examining how each of the Bruins' pending free agents performed last season and attempt to predict whether or not they'll be back in Black and Gold in 2012-13. 

BENOIT POULIOT

Born: Sept. 29, 1986
Position: Left Wing
Contract status: RFA on July 1

YEAR IN REVIEW

After spending parts of two seasons with the Canadiens, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli took a flyer on former fourth overall pick Benoit Pouliot with a one-year, $1.1 million deal.

Pouliot seemed poised to break out after a sensational stretch run with the Habs during the 2009-10 season, scoring 15 goals in just 39 games after failing to meet his potential in Minnesota. But the following season saw his playing time dip under coach Jacques Martin, leading to his exit.

His first season in Boston got off to a rough start, as Pouliot wrapped up October with no points and a minus-3 rating in eight games, which prompted coach Claude Julien to occasionally make him the healthy scratch up front.

Things began to click for Pouliot – and the Bruins, for that matter – in November and into December, a two-month stretch in which he tallied seven times in 22 contests. Pouliot’s individual success continued to mirror that of the team’s. When Boston was on its dominant run, the 6-foot-3 forward was emerging as a reliable scoring presence, but Pouliot went cold during the B’s mid-season slump.

A deadline-day deal that brought in veteran Brian Rolston helped get him back on track. Rolston, Pouliot and center Chris Kelly were dynamite down the stretch for the B’s. Over the last 18 games, Pouliot posted a line of 7-7-14, playing a big role in the Bruins righting the ship and securing the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Their strong play continued at the start of the opening-round playoff series against Washington, which saw Pouliot register a goal and an assist in the first two games and help form the B’s most consistent line in the first three games of the series.

Unfortunately, No. 67 went cold from there, failing to pick up a point over the final five games. He had a couple untimely penalties in Game 6 down in Washington and -- as everyone reading this knows full well -- his failed dump-in during overtime of Game 7 led directly to Joel Ward’s series-clinching goal.

FINAL STATS

2011-12: 16 goals, 16 assists, 32 points, plus-18 in 74 games

Playoffs: 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points, minus-1 in 7 GP

MAKING THE CASE

While Pouliot was certainly streaky throughout the course of his first season with the Bruins, as a whole, his body of work turned out to be pretty darn solid:

  • Pouliot ranked eighth among all Bruins in both goals (16) and plus-minus (+18).

  • His five game-winning goals only trailed Tyler Seguin (7) and Chris Kelly (6).

  • He established a new career-high with 32 points.

  • He accomplished all of the above while logging just 12:12 of ice time per game, which ranked 21st among the 30 players to skate for the Bruins in 2011-12.

  • Taking that a step further, Pouliot ranked fourth among Bruins with 1.03 goals per 60 minutes of ice time, trailing only Nathan Horton (1.10), Tyler Seguin (1.21) and Brad Marchand (1.26).

  • He ranked eighth on the club with 2.07 points per 60 minutes.

PREDICTING THE FUTURE

As a restricted free agent, the odds that Pouliot will be back with the Black and Gold in 2012-13 are obviously increased. Considering the high value he gave the team for such a small cap hit, last year was certainly a success.

Given that, the 25-year-old forward will likely be in for a moderate raise next season. Here’s what I expect:

Next contract: $2 million cap hit

Odds of returning: 80%