By Kirk Luedeke
Derrick Pouliot is one more player in what is a strong class of defensemen in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
|Derrick Pouliot helped the Winterhawks reach the WHL championship series with 17 points in 22 playoff games. (Getty Images)|
The skilled Weyburn, Saskatchewan native (no relation to restricted free agent Benoit Pouliot) is a gifted point producer and puck-mover who has improved the play in his own end this year. His strong two-way game, superb vision and hockey sense along with his overall potential has many projections having him going around top-15 in Pittsburgh June 22. However, if Pouliot were to be available when Boston’s turn comes at 24, the B’s would have to consider taking him.
“Personally it went all right,” the Portland Winterhawks star said recently. “I made some good strides and put up some numbers. As a team, I don’t think we are as happy as we could be with our performance, but overall we did some good things.”
Portland’s 49-19-3-1 regular season record positioned Portland as the No. 3 seed in the WHL, finishing just behind the Western Conference leader Tri-City Americans. A run to the WHL championship series ended in defeat for the second consecutive May (a year ago they lost to the Kootenay Ice), falling to the Edmonton Oil Kings in seven games.
Since making Pouliot the first overall selection in the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft, the Winterhawks have enjoyed a strong three-year run as bona fide contenders in the WHL. This past season, Pouliot asserted himself as one of the team’s more effective point producers with 11 goals and 59 points in 72 games.
“I’m more of an offensive defenseman,” said Pouliot. “I’m a good skater and have good vision on the ice. I can move the puck well and find my teammates with strong passes. I also sharpened up my defensive game this season and made strides towards being someone that my team can count on to make plays in any situation.”
Although he stands at just 6-foot and about 180 pounds, Pouliot is smart and slippery, using his excellent vision and mobility to compensate for the lack of natural size and physical prowess.
“He’s really a versatile defenseman,” Portland general manager and head coach Mike Johnston said of Pouliot. “His primary assets are that he’s smooth with the puck and makes real good decisions. “
Although some scouts are divided about Pouliot’s ability to be as effective in the pro ranks as he is in junior, Johnston isn’t buying it.
“There are some very good defensemen in our league,” said Johnston. “He’s up there as an elite player in my view, and I know that different scouts have different views, but I feel comfortable in saying that Derrick is one of the top players at his position available in this draft.”
While no one questions Pouliot’s offensive ability, he could stand to tighten up his defensive zone coverage and play with more of an edge going forward.
“One of the things is my physical play,” Pouliot said, evaluating his shortcomings. “I need to make sure I’m sharper in the d-zone; I’m a pretty good offensive player, but I have to be able to play at both ends of the rink.”
If the average defensive zone play is a knock, some of the other attributes Pouliot brings still make him a solid choice in the top-30 selections.
“He makes a good first pass and can beat guys 1-on-1,” said Johnston. “We found that his defensive game translates well from the offensive and defensive point of view. He reads players and the play so well, has great vision and brings nice production to our hockey club.”
The Bruins have not drafted a player out of the Portland Winter Hawks since Harry Sinden used the third overall pick in 1987 to select Glen Wesley, acquired as part of the deal involving arguably the most famous Winter Hawk of all-time, Cam Neely.
Neely is the B’s president, but don’t expect sentimentality to play into the draft process. If the team opts for Pouliot, it will be primarily because he’s the best player available on Boston’s board at that selection.
For now, most knowledgeable draft watchers are not expecting the 12th-ranked North American skater on Central Scouting’s final rankings to even be an option for Boston. However, given his pure skill level and ability to move the puck effectively while contributing on special teams, Pouliot is a player worth paying attention to on draft day.
“He was the first overall pick for a reason,” an NHL scout told New England Hockey Journal recently. “Pouliot hasn’t quite developed into the force that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins did a year ago as a fellow top bantam draft selection, but he has the skating chops, offensive upside and is in an outstanding organization. Watch for him to take it up a notch next season.”
Although Pouliot has his flaws, his wheels and sense make him one of the more intriguing homerun possibilities for the first round.