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Benoit Pouliot’s breakout year is a good example of why teams roll the dice on disappointing youngsters

Benoit Pouliot has blossomed in New York after playing for four teams in his first six seasons

Every year it seems like the Rangers have a reclamation project or two on their roster. There have been former first- and second-round picks that never panned out in their former homes like Enver Lisin, Chris Higgins, Alex Frolov, Wojtek Wolski and Brian Boyle as well as fringe NHLers looking for a final shot like Ales Kotalik, Anton Stralman, John Mitchell, Erik Christensen and Aaron Voros.

Really, every team has a guy or two like that. The majority of them last no more than a year or two with their respective new clubs before shuffling off to a different NHL team if they’re lucky – or, in most cases, to the minors or overseas. But every so often, the light bulb goes on. Boyle and Stralman have both been valuable players for the Blueshirts for the last several years and this season, Benoit Pouliot has played a major role.

Pouliot was drafted fourth overall in 2005, but played for four teams in the first six years of his career despite possessing the size, skating and offensive ability that teams covet. Pouliot just couldn’t put it all together, and the result was a maddeningly inconsistent career that was teetering ever closer to extinction.

But Pouliot had ranked among the league’s better possession players in recent years, so Rangers GM Glen Sather decided to take a flier on him this summer for one-year, $1.3 million. For the first two months of the season, it looked like Pouliot was set to follow the same fate as Lisin and Frolov, disappearing into the hockey abyss after a frustrating season in New York.

But to coach Alain Vigneault’s credit, the new bench boss stuck with Pouliot through his early-season struggles, and a switch suddenly flipped in December. Playing left wing on a line with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, Pouliot rediscovered his game and the trio became New York’s best line. Pouliot exploded for four goals in five games and also became the much-needed net-front presence the suddenly potent power play had lacked in recent years.

His production has slowed of late, but Pouliot has remained one of the club’s most consistent players for several months now. He is finally making use of all those tools scouts drooled over back in the day and now looks like he has a very bright future ahead of him in the NHL.

Will Pouliot ever turn into the 25-goal, 60-point player that teams hope for out of top-five picks? Probably not. But he’s carved out a niche as a power forward that’s very capable of contributing on the offensive end, drives possession, and can play on the man advantage.

Pouliot has absolutely earned another contract from the Rangers, but he may get a more lucrative offer from another club this summer given the major strides he’s taken this year. If Pouliot doesn’t re-sign with the team, Sather will likely be on the hunt for another guy just like him – a forgotten young player that hasn’t quite figured it all out yet, but has the pedigree to suggest that he still might.

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22 Responses to “Benoit Pouliot’s breakout year is a good example of why teams roll the dice on disappointing youngsters”

  1. cnp says:

    If he had a full season at his post-december production rate I don’t think its entirely impossible for him to become a 25 goal player. Prolly more like a 18-20 goal scorer but he’s really been a presence on the ice of late.

  2. Rob L says:

    Good article, I agree, with a few footnotes:

    1) He very well could be a late bloomer. He did well in the O but it took him three full years to become a full time NHL’er. He has top-six scoring talent, but the rest of his game is a little behind.

    2) Given his TOI/60, the fact that his P/60 has been north of 1.4 (and has broken 1.9 three times) backs up #1 above.

    3) While his PDO has been historically high, his on-ice shooting percentage is somewhat low, which makes sense given that he’s been mostly a middle-to-bottom six NHL guy.

    4) If he wasn’t having the worst shooting season of his NHL career, he’d probably be at a career high for goals (16) by now.

    These are the kind of signings that need to continue to happen just like you alluded to in the first paragraph. They won’t always (probably usually) work out, but when they do these guys make all the difference in depth.

  3. Chuck A says:

    BP is one of ten Rangers (including MSL) who will likely finish with over fifteen goals each. As the distribution seems unusual to me, is it in actuality, from either a team or league perspective?

    • Kevin Baumer says:

      It does seem weird, but I was doing some research for a post last week and it seems like a ton of teams have 7-8 guys with 15+ already, so maybe not that abnormal

  4. Rangers Fan in Boston says:

    I’m very happy to say I was very wrong about Pouliot. He has been a plesant surprise and oddly enough, one of the Rangers’ most consistent forwards after the first month or so of the season.

  5. Walt says:

    Like Rangers Fan in Boston, I was down big time on Ben, and Pyatt. We got rid of the pylon, and Ben found magic in a bottle with Brass, and Zucc.

    Slats should offer the guy a two year deal, at $1.75 to $2 mil per year. If Ben cares at all for the team, line mates, and coach who gave him his last shot at staying in the bigs, he signs. After the contract expires, and he continues to play at the current level, then he is re-signed for a big pay day!!

    Glad to say, I was wrong with Ben, and hope that continues to make me look bad!!

    • Chris F says:

      Yes, I agree.

      I don’t anticipate that he will sign elsewhere. He knows the trouble he’s had finding consistency and has bounced around from team to team with no one willing to re-sign him.

      The Rangers gave him a chance, stuck with him, and will be offering him a new contract. If he has any integrity, he’ll re-sign with NY.

      • Kevin Baumer says:

        I think that it’s very wishful thinking that will be his mindset. Guys that break out want their big payday from whomever, and so would I. It took years to finally have a chance at one, loyalty goes out the window

        • SalMerc says:

          Your next big payday may be a one time opportunity. Players (and agents) usually go for the $$ when they can. Loyalty isn’t usually a factor.

  6. Stella says:

    Is this meant to be satire? Benoit Pouliot is going to be 28 before the start of next season, he’s no longer a youngster. His goal and point production are exactly the same as his previous four full NHL seasons, hardly a breakout season.

    The only thing he does consistently is put together long goal droughts: goalless streaks of 8, 18, and 11, and most recently 1 goal in 17 games before finally scoring last night. He scored 6 goals in 12 games after scoring only 2 in his first 21 and has netted just 5 in the last 33 games. The guys’s a stiff.

    And though more than half of his goals are PPG, he scores them at the woeful rate of one for every 20 minutes of PP ice time. And even that is horribly skewed, as he scored four PPG in 5 games during a late December hot streak and has since had only 2 PPG in the past three calendar months after having nne in the first ten weeks of the season.

    It is painful to watch this guy blow scoring chances, turn the puck over in every zone, and skate off in frustration so many times in one game, and yet get more of chance than others (e.g. JT Miller).

    • Kevin Baumer says:

      Maybe youngster is the wrong word…but he’s certainly at the beginning of his prime years. And his production is skewed by the disastrous start and some bad shooting luck, that’s all.

      • The Suit says:

        I’m kinda with Stella. While he’s been a good contributor on the third line, his production is pretty much onpar with what he’s done elsewhere.

        Not that we shouldn’t resign him. I’m all for it if his demands are reasonable, but I wouldn’t pay a premium for him. What you see if what you get.

        • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

          And that’s the rub. He’s brought some production to the 3rd line on a team that has been hurting for 3rd line production for what seems like forever.

          His next contract should be representative of 3rd line wingers, but he’s earned a stay in NY in my opinion.

        • Forever 1994 says:

          Suit:

          Agree with you and Stella. If the price is right you resign him if not you have a couple of guys in Hartford hungry to move up (JT Miller, Lindberg, Kristo, Fast & Bourque to name a few).

      • Chris A says:

        This isn’t baseball. Prime years in the NHL are over by 28. Most players start their statistical decline around that age. An NHL player’s scoring peak is around 25 years old.

        http://www.arcticicehockey.com/2010/1/21/1261318/nhl-points-per-game-peak-age

        This is why most big money UFA deals in the NHL are unmitigated disasters. You can’t sign a 30 year old and expect him to produce like he did at 25.

        • The Suit says:

          That chart includes AHL and IHL players born from 1962-79? Not exactly an ideal sampling methodology for the modern NHL.

          • Chris A says:

            Well they weighted the points based on the various leagues, I don’t see why that would hurt the study. Also, players born in 1962 started playing in the 80s. It’s not ancient history.

            Do you not agree that the average hockey player peaks in their mid 20s?

            • The Suit says:

              I don’t know. I guess it makes sense, but I also read somewhere that players retain 90% of their production until age 30, then it falls off a cliff. That at least feels a little more accurate.

  7. Puck Luck @Centerman21 says:

    Pouliot is the perfect player to offer a new contract to right before the playoffs or during. That may just get him feeling better about himself and his position. Him I’d like to keep. At least that way Sather & Co won’t have to bid against anyone. Pouliot will get paid but it may be cheaper to pay him than to get a guy in free agency that’ll do what he did. He’s a versile forward too Pouliot. He could likely play anywhere in the top 9. Or 12.

    • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

      He’s moderately versatile, but I wouldn’t go as far as to slot him on a shutdown line.

  8. Snake says:

    I enjoyed the article. It was well written.

    My opinion of Benoit echoes what others have said. Compared to what the Rangers had most of last season, he helped upgrade their depth. He was cheap. He allowed AV to use Boyle in an appropriate role. Hopefully they will upgrade the top 6 next season making him expendable or give his spot to one of the kids if they are ready.

    If that happens I wish him well and hope he gets a two year deal and a big pay raise with another Metro Division team. This way he is rewarded for his contributions to the Rangers this season and continues to help the team by having a rival compensate him for his solid year with THEIR cap space.

  9. Frank Cerbone says:

    Don’t hold your breath on Vigneault allowing Miller, Lindberg, Kristo, Fast, or Bourque making the team next year.

    Vigneault just likes players with a ton of experience.

    Maybe Sather packages a number of our inexperienced, younger players for a young, experienced player