Penguins defenseman Derrick Pouliot still a work in progress after minor league stint
January 25, 2016 12:00 AM
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
Penguins' Derrick Pouliot, left, battles for the puck with Vancouver Canucks' Emerson Etem during the first period Saturday at Consol Energy Center.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Less than five minutes into his long-awaited NHL season debut, Derrick Pouliot was skating backward in his own zone, nothing but a sheet of ice between him and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
In skated Vancouver Canucks center Bo Horvat, who dangled the puck in front, then through Pouliot’s legs, skated around him and fired a shot on goal, in the blink of an eye.
Welcome back, kid.
“It kind of felt like my first game again. I was a little bit nervous and kind of timid in the first, but hopefully I’ll settle,” said Pouliot. “That wasn’t the best play. Other than that I thought I kept it fairly simple.”
That’s what the Penguins want, for Pouliot to keep it simple.
Their young prospect played 34 games for the Penguins last year, and seemed a foregone conclusion to make the roster again this year, with his skating ability and offensive instincts that fit their defenseman wish list.
But a lousy training camp flashed some holes and vulnerabilities in his defensive game, and that plan was scrapped. The organization sent him to their minor league affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to develop some more.
Three long months passed, and nearly a fourth, before Pouliot was recalled Jan. 18 when injuries dictated the Penguins needed another defensemen.
He practiced, but was scratched until Saturday, the first game of his new chance.
“The start wasn’t the best, but that’s in the past. It is kind of a fresh start,” said Pouliot. “I got my first one out of the way again this year. Hopefully things keep going up from there.”
Coach Mike Sullivan said he thought Pouliot settled in well after his first few shifts.
“I thought he settled in. The NHL pace is much different than the American League pace, so for any player that comes up that’s an adjustment,” said Sullivan. “I thought as the game went on he adjusted well. He made some good outlet passes.”
Sullivan was slow to place any extreme expectations on Pouliot, making it very clear the club will have patience with him in the short and long term.
“This is a great experience for Derrick. We think very highly of him, that’s one of the reasons he spent the time that he spent in Wilkes-Barre,” said Sullivan. “That experience there was all about Derrick, and an opportunity for him to develop his game. He spent a fair amount of time there this year. We have him here with us right now … we know he’s going to continue to improve and get better.
“It’s our job and our responsibility to put him in those circumstances that allow that process to take place.”
Pouliot said he valued his time in Wilkes-Barre, and worked on improving the defensive side of his game.
“Yeah, I think it’s been very helpful. I’ve learned how to defend better, played more consistently, got my confidence back up with the puck and defending,” said Pouliot. “So in that regard it’s been going great for sure.”
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JennMenendez.
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