At fist glance, many people struggled to understand the signing of unrestricted free agent and former Montreal Canadien Benoit Pouliot. However, at further examination one can see the benefits of signing a guy like Pouliot to a 1 year contract worth just $1.1 million.
Pouliot, 24, is the former 4th overall pick of the Minnesota Wild in the 2005 NHL draft where he never had much success in parts of 4 different seasons. He ended up being traded to Montreal for another disappointment, Guillaume Latendresse in the 2009-10 season. After that trade, Pouliot showed off a little of that untapped potential, scoring 15 goals and 24 points in just 39 regular season games with the Canadiens that season.
However, once the playoffs rolled around Pouliot once again disappeared, contributing just 2 assists in 18 games during the Habs' run to the conference final. He continued to struggle into this past season with the Canadiens scoring just 13 goals and 30 points in 79 regular season games. His struggles forced coach Jacques Martin to bench him after just 3 playoff games against the Bruins where he contributed 0 points.
There are plenty of reason to question the signing (as Jack Edwards is probably doing), however there are also a few reasons to be optimistic about the signing and believe that Pouliot can make something of himself with the Bruins.
Reasons for optimism after the jump...Benoit Pouliot is only 24 years old
Pouliot has been around the league for a while, first seeing some playing time in the NHL with Minnesota in 2006-07, albeit in only 3 games. However, he is still very young and has a lot to learn about the game of hockey. There are plenty of players in the NHL who didn't start making an impact in the NHL until they were 24 or older.
Dan Boyle didn't have his first real impact season until he was 24 in 2002-03 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Johan Franzen didn't start making an impact with the Detroit Red Wings until he was 28 years old in 2007-08 where he scored 27 goals. Martin St. Louis didn't breakout until he was 25 with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2000-01.
The best comparison of all, would be Mike Knuble a guy of similar size and stature of Pouliot, did not become a full time NHL until the age of 26 years old in 1998-99 with the New York Rangers and he did not become a true impact player in the NHL until the age of 31 with the Boston Bruins in 2002-03.
These so called late bloomers are always popping up around the league and with the right coaching and mentoring, Benoit Pouliot definitely has the potential to be the next one in that line.
The Bruins recent ability to develop young players
While Pouliot is not like a regular prospect in the pure sense of the word, he still has that untapped potential that all prospects do and the Bruins are looking for. Therefore, the Bruins recent history with getting prospects to the NHL is another reason for optimism.
Over the past few years the Bruins have had multiple prospects come up from the minors or even their junior hockey team and contribute to the team. Homegrown players include Milan Lucic, Blake Wheeler, Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, Tuukka Rask (although Wheeler, Boychuk, McQuaid and Rask were not drafted by the Bruins, I consider them homegrown because of the time they spent in Boston's system) and they even got contributions from young prospects like Jordan Caron and Steven Kampfer.
Other skaters who have been successful NHLers that have come up through the Bruins system include Kris Versteeg, Vladimir Sobotka and Matt Hunwick. Then you can look at the continued growth of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci who were drafted by another set of people in the front office, have become top NHLers under this current staff. The Bruins recent history with youngsters like Benoit Pouliot give fans another reason for hope with this signing.
Pouliot has plenty of size and still has room to add to his frame
Pouliot has one thing that you cannot teach and is something that is valued very much in the history of this organization, which is size. Pouliot is 6'3" but he only weighs in at 199 pounds. Therefore, he has the hieght and the frame that many very good forwards have, but he still has plenty of room to add muscle.
For comparison's sake, other guys who play at 6'3" include Johan Franzen, Mike Knuble, Todd Bertuzzi and Mike Modano. Each of those guys weigh in at 222, 223, 225 and 212 respectively and all have had very productive careers. If the Bruins can get Pouliot on their weight program and get him to add more size without losing anything in the skating department, that could add a big boost to his play.
Already brings some defensive awareness
Pouliot will likely never be considered a "great" defensive forward, however looking at his +/- numbers gives you a belief the he could potentially fit into a Claude Julien team. Pouliot has never put up big numbers so the fact that he is a career +8 is surprising, especially when you consider the goal differential of the teams he has played on recently. Montreal was only a +1 in '10-'11 and a -12 in '09-'10, Minnesota was a -31 in '09-'10, a -13 in '08-'09 and a -5 in '07-'08. Therefore, Pouliot must be doing something right to stay on the positive side of things on those teams.
Even strength production similar to Michael Ryder
So far in his short career, Pouliot has piled up most of his points at even strength. In his 183 NHL games in his career he has scored 61 of his 72 points (85%) of his points even strength. When you compare that to what Michael Ryder did in his 235 games as a Bruin, he scored 86 of his 127 (68%) of his points even strength.
Pouliot has been scoring at a 0.33 PPG pace even strength so far in his career, while Ryder was scoring at a 0.37 PPG pace even strength as a Bruin. Which means that even if Pouliot does not improve on his career numbers, he will most likely replace Michael Ryder's even strength production and the Bruins will hope the improvements in Tyler Seguin's game will replace or even better Michael Ryder's power play contributions. Not to mention he will be making 2.9 million less than Ryder was making with much less of a long term commitment.
He is only signed to a 1 year deal worth $1.1 million
Lastly and most importantly, fans can look at this deal with a little optimism because there is very little financial commitment to him. Problems occur when you sign guys to long term big money contracts rather then when you sign guys to short term, small money deals. That is because if things don't work out, it is easy to part ways with a guy.
If that's the case with Pouliot, he can be stashed away in the minors if he fails and doesn't get claimed on waivers. This is a savvy deal by Peter Chiarelli who realized that Pouliot has only played 183 games in his career, which is just over 2 years in the league. He is a small risk, high reward type player and if you can get past the fact that he has worn the Canadiens jersey (which is understandably very hard to do), then you can see there is reason's to hope Pouliot finds "it" with the Boston Bruins.