Inconsistent, journeyman pro, never sticks with one team, will never live up to his draft status. The list of criticisms labelled at Benoit Pouliot is a long one, and by and large most criticisms and assumptions about the Rangers winger have been or are true. Pouliot will never live up to being 4th overall in 2005, nor is he particularly consistent, but in recent weeks something inside of the highly skilled, big winger may have clicked.
We wrote pre-season with excitement at the potential steal the Rangers may have signed when they took on Pouliot. We then watched Pouliot stumble through the first 25 or so games of the season, as he looked like a free agent mistake. In the past month or so, Pouliot has been one of the Rangers better players and may even manage to stick with a club beyond one season for the first time since the club that drafted him (the Wild). Of course, this if he can continue his great recent form.
At 6’3 and 200 lbs Pouliot is big, can skate well, is very skilled, and works hard. He’s not a defensive liability either, but it always appeared something was missing. All of a sudden (at least recently) Pouliot is consistent and, above all, dangerous. Using the breakaway against Dallas as an example, he doesn’t give up on plays. In short, Pouliot is working his butt off to stick with the Rangers or at least prolong his NHL career.
The short term deal that Sather signed Pouliot to appears to be a motivator, there’s no long term contract to fall back on. The constant public prodding from Alain Vigneault seems to be working. Pouliot has developed great chemistry with his line mates and has become a staple on the now dangerous Rangers powerplay. Since a December 15th game versus Calgary, Pouliot has 11 points in 14 games, has four powerplay goals and is letting off almost two shots per game despite averaging less than 13 minutes per game.
Pouliot has developed into an effective depth forward and has used his relatively limited ice time to great effect. With his impressive play he is a big reason why all of a sudden the Rangers look as deep as they have done all season. He is a big part of the recent strong form shown by the Rangers. Size and skill combined is rare when used well and he adds a great deal to the roster when he’s playing well.
While his season projections are modest (14 goals, around 30 points, under 13 minutes/game), this is in part due to an atrocious start to his career with the Rangers. If Pouliot can maintain his current form, not only will the Rangers benefit for the rest of the season but he may force them to keep him. It’s a weak free agent market this summer and a player of Pouliot’s talent, pedigree, size and skill set would be a great keep for the Rangers.