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.