Reading this title may have given many of you a few aneurisms. By now, the Penguins have given defenseman Derrick Pouliot ample chance to prove himself at the NHL level, right? To be quite honest, I don’t think he’s been given ample chances.
Sure, he’s been up and down from the AHL to the NHL and back again multiple times. It seems that anytime Pouliot makes one mistake, it’s magnified and he’s immeadiately benched or sent down. With a young, steadily developing “prospect”, if you will, the worst thing to do is mess with any potential confidence he has.
The Pittsburgh Pirates faced a similar situation early in their season.
Top prospect, Tyler Glasnow, was given the opportunity to be in the Opening Day rotation. His struggles with his control issues were a well-known fact going into the year. Despite a few rough starts, Glasnow began to find himself a bit. He then tailed off and was sent back to the minor leagues. The Penguins need to attempt a similar approach.
Pouliot has served his time in the AHL and has looked good doing it. Although his NHL transition seems to be rough at times, how is he going to get any better continuously being sent up and down?
Thus brings me to my argument: Derrick Pouliot should be in the lineup on Opening Night next year.
Pouliot isn’t going to get better at the NHL level without playing there. Mike Sullivan needs to guarantee Pouliot a spot in the top six to open the year so Pouliot can readily focus on what he needs to do to be a quality and serviceable player. Sullivan has yet to make any player around him worse so Sullivan’s guidance can only help Pouliot.
His struggles to play defense at times can be overcome by the offensive capabilities that Pouliot brings to the table. That’s something that can’t be overlooked.
He scored on his first NHL shot against the Florida Panthers in 2014. He can really skate with the puck and has puck moving abilities that the Penguins sorely could use.
The Penguins used the eighth overall pick on him in 2012. They expect a lot out of him and they can get it if they actually decide to play him.
The Penguins are likely going to need one defenseman when the season begins. It’s safe to assume that Trevor Daley‘s best days might be behind him and that the Penguins will allow him to walk on July 1st. With guys like Nick Bonino, Brian Dumoulin, and Justin Schultz needing contracts, the Penguins will have an in-house defensive option or two if they’d like to let Daley go elsewhere.
That would leave the likely pairings to be as follows heading into the season:
The obvious chemistry of the top four defensemen can’t be understated. The Maatta-Pouliot pairing may look scary, but it’s got the potential to be very effective.
The only way to really grow Pouliot’s game is to let him work out his kinks at the NHL level under Sullivan and defensive coach Sergei Gonchar‘s guidance. He’s shown flashes of being an offensive juggernaut and could really be a great boost to the second power play if in fact Daley signs with another team.
Unless the Penguins go out and sign somebody, your other in-house options include Chad Ruhwedel, Cameron Gaunce, or Frankie Corrado. They’re all perennial seventh defenseman that you can find on the free agency wire. Pouliot is a former first round draft choice with the potential to be just that. He should be guaranteed a spot on the Opening Night roster next year. I don’t think there is much of a question about that.
The question is, how much of a chance will Sullivan give him and how does he respond?