Derrick Pouliot vs Robert Bortuzzo: Who Sits When Ehrhoff Returns?


The return of defenseman Christian Ehrhoff is near.

After missing the last 12 games while dealing with a concussion, the veteran defender returned to practice this past weekend and took contact for the first time on Tuesday.

According to head coach Mike Johnston, Ehrhoff will be a game-time decision for Wednesday’s tilt with the Washington Capitals. If he does not make into Wednesday’s contest, he’s a near-lock to return for Sunday’s contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

While the Pens will surely be glad to have Ehrhoff back in the lineup – he’s a solid top-four defenseman with talent on both sides of the puck – his return does raise some questions concerning Pittsburgh’s blue line.

The team’s first pairing of Kris Letang and Paul Martin is seemingly set for the rest of the season, as the two have undoubtedly been the Pens’ best on the back end.

Further complicating things is the fact that Simon Despres and Rob Scuderi have formed a fairly inseperable pairing as well. The two have looked fairly solid together throughout the season but, more importantly, have looked much worse separated than united.

With those four spots locked up, Ehrhoff’s return would appear to be bring about a pairing of him and either Robert Bortuzzo or Derrick Pouliot.

Regardless of the combinations, the fact is one of Bortuzzo and Pouliot will remain in the Pens’ lineup while the other wil be relegated to the press box.

Which of the two deserves to keep their spot?

Pouliot has clearly been the more-talked about of the two. The young Pouliot has looked dynamic in his first season with the Pens. Though he’s posted only 3 points in his 19 games with the black and gold, Pouliot has shown promise and, in turn, earned more responsibilities – even getting time on the team’s second powerplay unit.

That being said, Pouliot’s youth has shown at times and there is still room for his game to grow. While he’s looked good so far in the regular season, it remains to be seen how he’d look in the postseason, when the physicality and intensity will ramp up considerably. Seeing his minutes elevate to the level that Ehrhoff will warrant could also be an issue.

Bortuzzo, on the other hand, has been a different beast for Pittsburgh.

In 37 games this season, he’s posted 6 points. More notable, however, is the fact that Bortuzzo has racked up 111 hits in those games – a total that dwarfs Pouliot’s 10 hits.

While he may not be as gifted as the young Pouliot when it comes to offensive skill and vision, Bortuzzo remains valuable when it comes to size (6’4”, 215 lbs), tenacity, and a willingness to drop the gloves if need be.

Considering how badly the Pens were manhandled last postseason, a big, physical defenseman like Bortuzzo would certainly come in handy. Just as is the case with Pouliot, however, the increased minutes could become an issue, as Bortuzzo has not proved himself defensively sound enough to handle top-four minutes.

Ultimately, the long-term decision between the two will come down to what General Manager Jim Rutherford decides to do before the Mar. 2nd trade deadline.

Should Pittsburgh pick up a veteran blue-liner, there’s a good chance said addition could line up beside Ehrhoff to complete Pittsburgh’s starting six on the back end.

If the Pens stand pat and go with what they have, then Pittsburgh will have to assess what they feel is more important come playoff time – size and toughness on the blue line to prevent getting beaten down once again, or more offensive creativity incase the Pens’ top lines dry up in crunch time once again.