Pittsburgh Penguins’ defenseman Olli Maatta, in his first NHL season, has taken the league by storm.
Ranking tied for ninth in scoring among rookies, Maatta is second to only Boston’ blueliner Torey Krug under points for a defensemen in their first-year, and has performed so well that he was selected to play for Team Finland.
Not too bad for a 19-year-old kid.
But if Maatta is as-good-as advertised, imagine how dynamic defensive prospect Derrick Pouliot is going to be.
Pouliot, 20, was selected 14 picks before Maatta in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft at 8th overall. And if you’re mesmerized by the fine-tuned skill-set Maatta displays, you’re going to love Pouliot’s game.
A smooth skater, Pouliot is a future defensive head honcho for Pittsburgh. Demonstrating soft hands and strong puck management skills, Pouliot shows impressive ice-vision and stretches the play with his exceptional tape-to-tape sauce passing.
Standing at 6-foot and weighing 203-pounds, Pouliot isn’t the stockiest defender, but neither is Maatta, and he’s succeeded just fine. Although Pouliot probably needs to build more muscle, however, he’s smart enough to avoid reckless situations. The guy has a nose for leadership.
Executing like a quarterback on the power play, Pouliot’s decisively precise on the man-advantage, and allows the unit to move fluently through him. The young blueliner shows a tremendous hockey sense, and that knowledge will help him effortlessly transition to the NHL, much like Maatta. In regards to potential, Pouliot’s upside is through the roof, and should, in all likelihood, be rostered in Pittsburgh next season.
Possessing a dominating overall two-way game, Pouliot has drawn comparisons to that of Kings’ defenseman Drew Doughty and Pittsburgh’s own Kris Letang. Highly-touted as the best blueliner in the Western Hockey League (WHL), Pouliot is certainly performing like it.
Placing second in the league for points by defenseman with 52 (14G, 38A), he’s just nine behind the leader, Shea Theodore of the Seattle Thunderbirds, and has played in 12 less games than him, due to an injury earlier in the season. Averaging 1.24 points-per-game, Pouliot tops the league in that category, and has compiled 17 points (3G, 14A) over his last 10 contests – which is equivalent to 1.70 points-per-game.
Named to Team WHL for the Subway Super Series against Team Russia back in November, Pouliot helped contribute towards the Canadian Hockey League’s victory. Scoring the game-tying goal in the final game of the series, Pouliot assisted on what would be the winning tally, and led all defensemen on his team with 2 points (1G, 1A) in two contests.
Pouliot has already achieved so much in his young career, and the team he’s currently on, the Portland Winerhawks, has a lot to do with that growth. In my opinion, they’re the Pittsburgh Penguins of the WHL. Top prospects always seem to emerge from that squad, including Seth Jones, who was selected 4th overall in last year’s draft.
Pittsburgh will have three defensemen hit the open market following this season – Deryk Engelland, Matt Niskanen, and Brooks Orpik. Chances of the team signing any of them are slim, given their bloated payroll, perhaps Niskanen, but Pouliot’s hopes of making it into the Pens’ lineup next season are high. And considering how effective Maatta’s been, Pouliot should be a no-brainer to keep.
Still, Pittsburgh’s got a lot of stout defensemen to choose from in the minors – Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington, Philip Samuelsson – and they could very well let Pouliot develop in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. However – I know I keep relating Pouliot to Maatta – but I just don’t see him in the AHL, for very long at least.
Obviously, there’s no forgone conclusion Pouliot will be donning a Pittsburgh’ sweater next season, and his inexperience at the NHL-level comes into question. But despite the reasons not to put him on the team for the 2014-15 campaign, his artistry and proficiency will make you think twice.
I expect him to be in the NHL next year, and if he’s not, he will at some point during the season. His outlook is too promising to leave fans’ patiently awaiting the impending arrival.
To summarize – Pouliot is good. The fans will see, and he will amaze.