Former top pick Pouliot a promising work in progress for Penguins
September 21, 2013 8:00 AM
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The Penguins' Derrick Pouliot turns around Ben Smith of the Blackhawks in an exhibition game Thursday at the United Center in Chicago.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Derrick Pouliot wasn't sure of the protocol or traditions. Does someone fish the puck out of the net for you when your first NHL goal comes in a preseason game?
The teenage defenseman looked around the visiting locker room Thursday night at Chicago's United Center.
"Hopefully someone got it," Pouliot said, then laughed and shrugged.
He wasn't going to sweat that detail. Besides, if things go as planned, Pouliot will get his first regular-season -- and therefore official -- goal with the Penguins sooner rather than later, with more memorable moments to follow.
Pouliot, drafted eighth overall by the Penguins in 2012, was noticeable for a few reasons in Thursday's 4-3 shootout exhibition win against the Blackhawks.
He scored on a power play in the first period, moving in from the right point and taking a nice cross-zone feed from Chris Kunitz. Pouliot's shot was far from blistering, but it made its point.
"I just put it toward the net," he said. "It hit a stick and slipped [between goalie Nikolai Khabibulin's pads]. A goal is a goal. I'm pretty happy. First one."
Pouliot also killed penalties against Chicago, a task he took on to a greater extent last year in junior hockey. In the third period, he went back for the puck in his defensive zone, where Chicago's Ben Smith took the puck off him and scored short-handed.
If that rattled Pouliot, 19, he didn't show it.
"It was just a little bad play on my part," he said. "Too soft on the puck. The guy made a good play to strip it of off of me. It was a bad turnover. Luckily, it didn't cost us the game."
Pouliot, who was paired defensively and as a fellow power-play point man with Matt Niskanen, played 24 minutes, 7 seconds in his second NHL preseason game. He had no points and played 21:09 Sunday at Columbus.
He is not scheduled to play today when the Blue Jackets come to Consol Energy Center.
In Chicago, he had the goal, two shots, two takeaways, the costly giveaway and one other, and was the only Penguins skater who wasn't credited with a hit.
"Showed an awful lot," coach Dan Bylsma said. "There were some bumps and a mistake or two here or there. He got pickpocketed on the power play and they scored the short-handed goal, and he had one or two other [regrettable] plays, but [there was also] the poise he showed five-on-five and on the power play."
Bylsma noted he saw that poise not just in the offensive aspects of Pouliot's game, which are primarily what has made him an elite prospect, but also in stickier situations.
"He made several good plays coming out of the defensive zone under pressure," Bylsma said.
When Pouliot got penalized for slashing in the first period and again when he scored, the public address announcer at United Center botched his name, something along the lines of "pool-ee-oh." Pouliot -- whose surname is of French origin but who is from English-speaking Saskatchewan -- pronounces the "t" at the end of his name, "pool-ee-aught."
"It happens," he said of the mispronunciation.
Perhaps at some point, everyone in NHL arenas will know his name.
Pouliot, 6 feet and 209 pounds, struggled some with injuries last season but averaged just more than a point per game for his junior club with seven goals, 45 points in 44 games. He helped the Portland Winterhawks win the Western Hockey League championship and advance to the Memorial Cup tournament.
His experience beyond junior hockey is limited. A year ago, he missed out on a chance to attend Penguins training camp and participate in their annual trip to a rookie tournament because of an NHL lockout. After his junior playoffs, he joined Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League last spring and appeared in one playoff game.
Now that he's in an NHL camp, Pouliot is surrounded by a large, competitive batch of defensemen ranging from Stanley Cup winners to other established veterans to players with some NHL experience to those who are just getting a taste of pro hockey.
Pouliot is one of five defensemen in camp who were first-round draft picks. Five others were second-round picks.
"It's a really good group," he said. "There are lots of good players, lots of guys that have been here for a number of years. It's going to be tough to crack the roster.
"Like everyone else here, I'm pushing for a spot here in training camp. If not, I want it to be a hard decision for the coaches."