Derrick Pouliot: Time for the Pens to Bring Him Back?


The Pittsburgh Penguins have a true gem on the blue line this season. He’s young, tenacious, and has enough talent to contribute at the NHL level at only 21 years of age.

Unfortunately, he’s not in the Pens’ lineup.

Pittsburghs’ Derrick Pouliot has been excellent thus far in 2014-15. While his numbers are nothing to write home about (5 points in 26 games), they’re somewhat deceptive in terms of providing an accurate representation of Pouliot’s play.

While he hasn’t flourished statistically yet (which is hardly surprising considering those 26 games are the only NHL games he’s ever been a part of), Pouliot has risen to be a key factor in the Pens’ success at times this season.

He’s provided an offensive spark when the team’s top gunners were getting shut down and he’s played a smart, reliable brand of hockey in his own end.

The logjam on Pittsburgh’s blue line, however, forced Pouliot out of the lineup and back to the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins three games ago when Christian Ehrhoff returned from injury.

The three games Pittsburgh has played since Pouliot’s demotion have resulted in three losses – two of which were shutouts.

Is it fair to say that Pouliot’s presence would have guaranteed success in those three games? Of course not.

But it is fair to suggest that the Pens lost something when they took Pouliot out of the lineup. His game is young, but his skill is elite, and every game he plays brings him one step closer to getting comfortable in the big leagues.

When that day finally comes, when Pouliot is free to play with confidence and poise in the NHL, the rest of the league will take notice.

Yet, despite Pouliot deserving a spot in the lineup – his coach and General Manager have both praised him throughout the season – there is simply no room for him.

Pittsburgh’s top pairing of Kris Letang and Paul Martin is set in stone, deservedly so, as the two have emerged as one of the league’s best tandems.

The third pairing consists of Rob Scuderi and Ian Cole – two defense-first blue-liners who are desperately needed to balance out the skill of guys like Letang and Ehrhoff.

With Ehrhoff recovering from his concussion symptoms, the veteran defender returned to the second pairing – unsurprisingly as Ehrhoff’s skill warrants a spot in the top-four.

He’s currently playing with Ben Lovejoy. While the two have been fine, it seemed a central reason for Lovejoy returning to the Pens via a trade at the deadline was to provide veteran steadiness in order to help grow the game of the young Pouliot, just as Lovejoy did for Anaheim’s Cam Fowler.

Regardless of the arrangement, the Pens are seemingly stuck with their current group as Letang, Martin and Scuderi are locks to stay on the ice and, considering what General Manager Jim Rutherford gave up to acquire Cole and Lovejoy, it’s unlikely either gets scratched in place of a rookie defenseman right before the postseason.

While the current group has veteran experience and enough skill to get by, the team certainly lost a bit of their x-factor with the removal of Pouliot. The losses of Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist have hurt them far more, but if the slide continues after those two return it may be time for head coach Mike Johnston to consider gambling on throwing the fresh-faced Pouliot into the grind of the NHL playoffs.

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