Wow, what an impression Olli Maatta left last season.
At just 19-years-old, Maatta defied age, didn’t change what had gotten him to the NHL, and adapted appropriately. Not only that, the kid was a paramount piece to Team Finland capturing the bronze medal at the Winter Games.
Hard to believe he was selected at No. 22 in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, given the impact he’s had thus far. However, there’s one player who was picked before him – 14 spots ahead of him to be exact – by the Penguins, but he’s yet to touch professional ice.
And this player’s coach in the Western Hockey League (WHL) over recent years just became Pittsburgh’s new head coach. Who is he? Derrick Pouliot.
Pouliot, 20, was selected 8th overall by Pittsburgh in ’12 as part of the package that sent Jordan Staal to Carolina, and was in line to make the Pens’ roster for the 2014-15 campaign. Was.
Undergoing shoulder surgery in late May, Pouliot’s timetable for recovery stands at 4-6 months, and even four months will put on track for late September. Theoretically, the chances of Pouliot rostering with Pittsburgh this season all but evaporated when he opted to go under the knife – at least for the start of the season. Given he’s still young, and the organization probably doesn’t want to risk further injury, there’s no rush on their end.
However, because Mike Johnston is behind the bench for Pittsburgh makes Pouliot’s situation slightly more intriguing.
The Pens are set to introduce their young defensemen to the league, and because Johnston – more than anybody – knows what Pouliot is capable of contributing, there’s still an outside chance the talented defenseman could see NHL time this season.
There’s no limit to what Pouliot can do, and his WHL Defenseman of the Year honors speaks volumes; it’s just his surgery couldn’t come at a more inopportune time.
Losing Deryk Engelland, Matt Niskanen, and Brooks Orpik to free agency – they haven’t left yet, but they’ll most likely be elsewhere by Tuesday – this year was Pouliot’s to finally burst onto the scene. But because his surgery requires a lengthy sideline, it likely delayed all hope of him showcasing his skills in the bigs.
As I mentioned earlier, Pouliot’s strengths are the same as, if not better, than Maatta’s. And because Pouliot is marginally older than Maatta, and already comprehends Johnston’s style of play, he quite possibly would’ve made an even bigger impact than Maatta. Which is demoralizing to Pens’ fans, knowing his debut will be stagnated.
Despite the obstacles that lie ahead for Pouliot, the future couldn’t be any brighter. If anything, should Pouliot fail to don a Pens’ sweater, he’ll at least sport a baby Pens’ sweater in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Nonetheless, the decision on whether to keep Pouliot in the minors or in the NHL will come down to how long he takes to rehabilitate.