The Pittsburgh Penguins have built outstanding defensive depth throughout recent years, and Derrick Pouliot is arguably their best prospect.
Selected in the first-round (8th overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Pouliot was one of the pieces acquired when the team dealt Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes.
A two-way defenseman — who is a bit more offensively gifted than most blueliners — Pouliot’s puck distribution and vision across the ice are precise.
While he’s got a powerful shot from the point, the 19-year-old’s best asset that fits the Pens system is by far his uptempo style of play.
Speculated to become a top-five defenseman when he reaches the NHL, Pouliot has often been compared to Drew Doughty — but assuming he’ll play alongside current Pens blueliner Kris Letang, he should be just as good, if not better than the Norris finalist.
Standing at 5-foot-11 and weighing in at 195-pounds, the Saskatchewan native isn’t one of the most intimidating figures; however, he plays with enough synergy and toughness to go toe-to-toe with any other defenseman.
Playing the last four seasons with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League (WHL), Pouliot has performed exceptional.
In 189 career regular-season contests for the Hawks, he has compiled 135 points (25G, 110A) and skated to an overall plus-63 — which is phenomenal for a blueliner.
Last season, Pouliot played in just 44 games due to an injury.
For those 44 games, he registered 45 points — which is a little over a point-per-game average — and finished just 14 behind his 2011-12 numbers.
Had he played in those extra 28 contests, he would have smashed those statistics, which are the best numbers he’s ever put up with the Hawks.
Despite missing action, Pouliot still was able to finished tied for 12th amongst defensive scorers.
Skating in 44 career postseason games for the Hawks, he has posted 41 points (8G, 33A) and logged just 46 penalty-minutes.
The last two playoff runs, Pouliot has led all defensive scorers with 17 points (3G, 14A) in 2012 and this past postseason with 20 points (4G, 16A).
Should he get the chance to play with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin one day, we could be looking at one powerful unit.
Making his American Hockey League debut for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pens in the postseason, Pouliot played in what would be their final game of the season, and was unable to record anything.
Although there’s speculation that he’ll be skating down in WBS for the upcoming 2013-14 season, the Canadian prospect reportedly is expected to play on his junior squad (Hawks) for one last year.
It’d be nice to get him into some AHL games this year, but because the Pens have three defenseman becoming unrestricted free agents at seasons end (Deryk Engelland, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik), Pouliot might go straight to the NHL.
It’ll get interesting to see where he’ll play for the 2014-15 campaign — my guess is with Pittsburgh.
Heck, if the Pens didn’t have so many defenders on their active roster, he could’ve been up there right now.