Benoit Pouliot: Misunderstood or flop?

Sitting at his table at the amateur draft back in 2005, having to select fifth overall, Bob Gainey has his plan of action. His target? Benoit Pouliot, a 6’2″ French-Canadian forward who just finished his rookie season with the Sudbury Wolves with 67 points including 29 goals in 67 games. However, the Minnesota Wild picks him just ahead of the Canadiens… who then have to go to plan B: Carey Price.

Pouliot returned to the Wolves where he collected 65 points, 35 of them goals, in only 51 games. He then struggled to bring his game to the next level, going back and forth between Houston and Minnesota for the next 3 years, before being traded to the Canadiens on November 23, 2009 for Guillaume Latendresse. We know the rest. Pouliot finished the season strong collecting 15 goals in 39 games for the Habs, playing on a line with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta.

The hopes were high around Pouliot last season. He said that he used the off-season to strengthen his legs to improve his balance, and everyone was expecting to finally see why the Wild and the Canadiens (amongst others) wanted to pick him so high at the draft. Pouliot, like his line mates Gomez and Gionta, had a slow start to the 2010-11 season and he’s the one who paid for it, spending the rest of the season on the third and fourth line. His best moments were when playing on a line with David Desharnais and Lars Eller, but the three young guys just didn’t get their coach’s confidence. Pouliot only played an average of 11:32 minutes per game, but still managed 13 goals in 79 games.

After taking a penalty for charging in a playoffs’ game against Boston, he watched the rest of the series from the press box. Many think that he may never wear the Habs uniform again and I’m not convinced that if that’s the case, Pouliot himself wouldn’t be the one relieved, getting a chance to flourish under a head coach who will give him the ice time and confidence young players need.

Can we qualify Pouliot of a flop, in the same mould as Alexandre Daigle? Or is he misunderstood, victim of a head-coach who has a reputation of punishing his young players and not his veterans? After all, Pouliot (+2) finished the season with only 8 points less and 6 more goals than Scott Gomez (-15), who played two more minutes per game on the PP…

Benoit Pouliot is only 24 and personally, I’d play him on the top 6 on a regular basis, with time on the powerplay, and I’d stick with him, good or bad, for at least 30-40 games. The organization owes it to itself to help him succeed, as they have done for several years now with the misunderstood, Andrei Kostitsyn.

En français: Benoit Pouliot: mal-compris ou raté?

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