Can Oilers’ Pouliot Rediscover 2014 Playoff Form?

The first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs was all about unlikely heroes for the Edmonton Oilers. Zack Kassian brutalized the San Jose Sharks and pocketed back-to-back game-winners in Games 2 and 3. David Desharnais lifted the roof off of Rogers Place in Game 5, setting up Oscar Klefbom for the game-tying goal and then shovelled in the overtime-winner 20 minutes later. And rookie Anton Slepyshev busted in on a breakaway and deposited the eventual series-clinching goal behind Martin Jones in the second period of Game 6.

The Oilers will be counting on more heroics from unlikely sources in the second round, as Connor McDavid is sure to be Ryan Kessler and the Anaheim Ducks’ number-one target. One unlikely player the Oilers will be looking to in the second round is fourth-line winger Benoit Pouliot.

Pouliot’s offensive numbers declined drastically during the 2016-17 NHL regular season. His 14 points in 67 games are the lowest totals for the former 2005 first-round draft pick since he produced 11 points in 37 games for the Minnesota Wild in 2008-09.

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Rough Regular Season Ends Well

It would be an understatement to say that Pouliot had a rough year. Just three games into the regular season, he was benched and publicly scrutinized by head coach Todd McLellan for taking two penalties in a 6-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Then an undisclosed injury suffered during practice in February resulted in the 30-year-old missing 10 games. However, even before his injury, Pouliot struggled to produce just 10 points in 51 games for the Oilers. Those kinds of numbers are disappointing for a player that tied a season high in points in just 55 games for the Oilers last season.

That is not to say that Pouliot has been completely useless to the Oilers this year. In fact, Pouliot’s injection into the lineup near the end of the regular season helped the Oilers improve their penalty kill from the league’s seventh worst to finishing the season near the middle of the pack, with an 80.7 penalty-killing percentage.

The New York Rangers 2014 Playoff Run

Pouliot’s playoff production is nothing that the Oilers’ forward can do much bragging about. To date, Pouliot has played a total of 60 NHL postseason games for five different teams and has managed to score just 14 points. Most of those points came during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs when Pouliot went on a tear, scoring five goals and five assists as a member of the New York Rangers that made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Pouliot scored a career-high 36 points in 80 games for the Rangers during the 2013-14 regular season. He boasted a plus-minus rating of +10 and was pretty good in the faceoff dot, where he won 51.28% of his draws. From that point, the sky seemed to be the limit for him. But former general manager Craig MacTavish failed to recognize Pouliot’s history of inconsistency before he signed him to a hefty five-year, $20-million contract on July 1, 2014.

Even during his productive season with the Rangers, Pouliot became notorious for taking penalties in the offensive zone, something Oilers fans know all too well by now. He also struggled with inconsistent play. One night, he’d be great. The next, not so much. Inconsistency has been a common theme throughout his career.

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But This Is the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Nevertheless, the Oilers are in the midst of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s the time of the year when every player gets a clean slate. Indeed, Pouliot has been a standout on some major plays for the Oilers in the playoffs. It was Pouliot who stood in front of the net to screen Jones on

It was Pouliot who stood in front of the net to screen Jones on Desharnais’ OT goal in Game 5. It was Pouliot who made a phenomenal defensive play in Game 6 to deny Logan Couture on the doorstep. Save for Game 4, Pouliot was a major factor in the Oilers killing off 17 of 18 penalties in five games of the opening round.

Pouliot has proven that he can produce on the score sheet in the postseason. On the other hand, the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs may have been an anomaly for him. He has yet to put up any points in the Oilers’ six games so far this postseason. The time will come when the Oilers will be looking for another unlikely hero to light the lamp against the Ducks. If he can somehow rediscover the magic he found with the Rangers in 2014, it would be a welcome change for the Oilers in their quest for the Stanley Cup.