It has not been an easy transition to the NHL for Pittsburgh Penguins defender Derrick Pouliot. The 8th overall pick in the 2012 entry draft has been known for his offensive talent. He’s been named an AHL All-Star for the past two seasons and might finally be ready to transition to the NHL full-time.
Being a first-round draft pick comes with tremendous expectations, but Pouliot has felt the pressure more than most. The Penguins original first-round draft pick (22nd overall), Olli Maatta never even played in the AHL. He came into Pittsburgh’s training camp after being drafted and worked his way onto the team, much sooner than anyone anticipated.
Last year, the Penguins were hit with a tremendous amount of injuries on their blue line and Derrick Pouliot was called up to Pittsburgh. In the first shift of his first NHL game, Pouliot scored on his first shot. That made him the second Penguin to ever accomplish that feat, the first was none other than Mario Lemieux.
Pouliot finished the season playing in 34 games, scored two goals, assisted on five more, was a -11 skater and had a Corsi For of 52.5% at even-strength.
With his draft pedigree, obvious offensive skills and phenomenal skating ability, he’s set expectations very high. However, at the start of this season, Pouliot played so poorly he was sent back down to the AHL, despite many analysts, including myself, believing he would be ready for a top-four role.
Derrick Pouliot’s Brief NHL Action In 2016
He’s only been up with the Penguins for a little over a week and has played in just two NHL games. But what he has shown in that brief time is that Pouliot looks ready for a full time spot in their NHL lineup.
In two games, Pouliot has one assist, is a +1 skater and has a Corsi For of 66.7% at even-strength. While statistics do reveal a lot about a player, they’re not the entire picture. Pittsburgh’s biggest concern last season was Pouliot’s defensive work, or lack thereof. While he would contribute to a lot of offensive plays, he would also routinely commit sloppy turnovers or let up an odd man rush due to poor positioning. This isn’t anything new for the Pittsburgh fanbase as Kris Letang was guilty of these same actions for years before developing into one of the top offensive defenders in the league.
— Sean Tierney (@SeanTierneyTSS) January 27, 2016
Pouliot has averaged 11:46 of ice time in his two games, so it’s clear head coach Mike Sullivan is being cautious with the 22-year old defender. But what he’s shown in this limited ice time has been impressive.
Sullivan has openly admitted to this and continues to monitor his play closely.
I thought he settled in. The NHL pace is much different than the American League pace, so for any player that comes up that’s an adjustment. I thought as the game went on he settled in. We think very highly of him, that’s one of the reasons he spent the time that he spent in Wilkes-Barre. It’s our job and our responsibility to put him in those circumstances that allow that process to take place.
When asked about his time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, here’s what Pouliot had to say.
Yeah, I think it’s been very helpful. I’ve learned how to defend better, played more consistently, got my confidence back up with the puck and defending. So in that regard it’s been going great for sure.
His confidence was shaken after his poor preseason and it’s clear he needed to regain it before heading up to the NHL. However, there’s something very interesting with what Pouliot said. For the first time, he’s spoken more about his defensive play than his offensive. Almost every time he spoke in the past, the focus was on offense, supporting the rush and generating scoring chances. As a defensemen, offense is a positive aspect of a player’s game, but it’s should not be the sole focus.