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Greg Thornberry The Hockey Writers

Published on Monday, April 4, 2016





Penguins’ Pouliot Could Be the Next Simon Despres

The Penguins have gotten excellent production from their prospects this year. They have done a fantastic job integrating Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, Scott Wilson and others into their locker room.

Then again, they have made some mistakes in the handling of players that are considered to be their top prospects (see Daniel Sprong).

Nobody can completely explain the benching of 21-year-old Derrick Pouliot. Even after an “explanation” from coach Mike Sullivan, it still does not make much sense.

The thing that is the most confusing is that after stretches when Pouliot was playing his best hockey, he was benched for long periods of time. In fact, were it not for the injury to Brian Dumoulin, Pouliot would not have gotten his most recent opportunity to play.

This situation is reminiscent of the Simon Despres debacle. The time that he spent in Pittsburgh was a complete and utter mess.

History Repeating Itself

Once upon a time, Despres was the Penguins top defensive prospect, just like Pouliot is right now. The Laval, Quebec native traveled up and down from the minors. He was benched for long stretches, and was never shown trust from the coaching staff. Sound familiar?

Eventually Despres was traded to Anaheim for Ben Lovejoy. A player that had the talent to become a cornerstone on the Penguins blue line was sent away for very little return. A complete disaster from beginning to end that was caused by the poor handling by both the coaching staff, and management.

Should fans be concerned? I would be.

Pouliot is young and makes mistakes, but his possession numbers hardly portray him as a liability. He actually has the highest Corsi For % (59.04) and Relative Corsi For % (6.50) among Penguins defenders.

I am in no way suggesting that he is their best defenseman. These numbers come from a limited sample size, and there are underlying statistics that can explain them away. The point is that Sullivan should have a higher degree of trust in Pouliot, not to mention that he has a higher upside than Lovejoy, or Ian Cole.

The Penguins are in a critical stretch right now trying to lock up home ice. But the playoffs are a grueling marathon, and injuries are going to happen. Pouliot needs a confidence boost, and as much experience that he can get before entering the “second season”.

The Penguins have a great defensive foundation with Kris Letang, Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, and Justin Schultz. There is no reason to continue making Pouliot the odd man out and creating another Despres situation.

Until next time.


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