On Saturday, the Lightning completed a trade that sent their 5th round pick in this weekend’s draft and the rights to Michel Ouellet to the Bruins in exchange for the rights to Benoit Pouliot, 25, a forward and first-round pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2005.
|11/29/1986 in Alfred, ON|
|4th Overall in 2005 by|
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|2001-2002||Eastern Ontario Cobras Bantam AA||OEBHL AA||34||20||22||42||64||||
|2012-2013||Tampa Bay Lightning||NHL||34||8||12||20||15||||
|2013-2014||New York Rangers||NHL||80||15||21||36||56|||||Playoffs||25||5||5||10||26|
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|Year||AHL Salary||NHL Salary||Bonuses||Cap Hit|
|Expiry Status: RFA|
Pouliot, who scored 16 goals, 16 assists and registered 38 penalty minutes in 74 regular season games and 2 points (a goal and an assist) in the playoffs, made $1.1 million with the Bruins last season and is currently a restricted free agent. He’s expected to be a fairly easy signing, however, given, as Damian Cristodero reported, the shared ties to the Montreal organization and familiarity between he and Boucher, the fact that Pouliot’s agent, Ken Hughes, also represents Vinny Lecavalier and Pouliot’s own eager remarks:
“It’s a big opportunity for me to get a chance to play with Tampa. You never know what can happen. It could be the best day that ever happened to me. I’m real excited to get started.”
Pouliot played 65 games for the Wild over parts of three season but failed to live up to the Wild’s expectations after being selected 4th overall. He was traded to Montreal as a sort of reclamation project in 2009. He posted 30 points (13 goals and 17 assists) in 79 games during the 2010-2011 season, his first full year in the pros, but the Canadiens decided not qualify him last summer and the Boston Bruins, looking for bargain-rate depth to bridge the gap to up-and-coming talent, signed Pouliot as a free agent last summer. Less scrutinized and used in an exclusively secondary role with Boston last season, Pouliot managed to contribute, on the balance, as a solid two-way player, providing some scoring punch while staying possession-positive as a checking-liner. Boston’s player usage chart (part of a larger body of work), compliments of Hockey Abstract, helps paint the picture:
Boston’s willingness to part with a player who proved so useful last season for so little (given the Bruins used the newly-acquired 5th rounder on a player, Seth Griffith, a highly productive forward (along with Lightning prospect Vladislav Namestnikov) for the London Knights of the OHL, who will probably have to develop into a top-line NHLer to stick in the big leagues and Ouellet, the other piece in the deal, will be of little use, if retained, aside from serving as a vet presence for the Bruins farm team) isn’t really that curious given Boston’s cap situation. With uncertainty over where the next negotiated CBA’s cap limit will be set, Tuuka Rask due for a hefty pay hike and young Jordan Caron believed by the Bruins to be ready to for an increased and steady role, Pouliot was very expendable.
What, then, should Lightning fans expect from Pouliot moving forward? The answer, as best can be predicted, really depends on his usage within the Lightning’s system. Claude Julien seems to pick his match-ups based on who his opponents are icing while Guy Boucher seems to prefer which zone-based matchups. To be more clear, note the difference in the vertical ranges vs. the horizontal ranges and concentrations between the Bruins’ player usage chart (above) and the Lightning’s below:
If he settles into a depth role with Tampa Bay, Pouliot might be able to help the bolster the possession game on the bottom lines, an area the Lightning suffered mightily in last season, and, from an individual standpoint, the 2012-2013 Historical Projections (the predictive power of which may be debatable but seems very reasonable) suggests Pouliot’s production, averaged against his particular player comparisons, should be close to what it was last season:
Of course, the suggested low-water (28-year-old Dwight Foster’s 4 goals, 8 assists) and high-water (24-year-old Nikolai Kulemin’s 29 goals, 26 assists in 2010) marks are interesting too and serve as a common-sense reminder that Pouliot’s role, the one he will earn with his on-ice performance, will drive any deviation from the expected average. The Lightning, of course, would love to get a breakout year from Pouliot. Should they expect it? Probably not.
The organization does seem high on him and somewhat expectant, though, judging from some of the brain trust’s impressions: Boucher speaking of Pouliot’s “upside” and ability to “play on the power play” and Yzerman talking of him being “capable of playing with top guys”. As Boucher elaborated:
“He’s just one of those that has high-end talent…he just hasn’t been as consistent as I think he can be. I think those guys who have high-end talent who didn’t figure it out before are just starting to figure out what they need to do to stick in the NHL. So I think we have him at the perfect time.”
How Pouliot’s debut in Tampa will ultimately pan out remains to be seen but, at present, it’s hard to find fault with what seems, from every angle, a sensible acquisition that seems to have addressed an immediate need in a timely, cost-effective and low-risk manner.