If there’s one player within the Penguins’ organization that Mike Johnston didn’t need to get to know after becoming the team’s head coach, it’s Derrick Pouliot. The 20-year-old already spent four-plus years working with Johnston as a member of the WHL Portland Winterhawks.
The question going into Pittsburgh’s training camp is if Pouliot is ready to make the leap to the NHL along with Johnston.
“Yeah, I do (think Pouliot’s ready). For sure,” Johnston told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Not only his play in Portland, but the thing that convinced me the most was last year at the World Juniors.
“I really thought Derrick was the best defenseman in the tournament. If you can play at that level on the world stage, yeah, you’re ready.”
Pouliot was selected by Pittsburgh with the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Since then he’s shown off his offensive skills, scoring 17 goals and 70 points in 58 WHL contests in 2013-14, but Johnston feels that he’s also smart defensively.
All the same, it’s worth noting that Pouliot underwent shoulder surgery in May and his availability for the start of training camp is still up in the air. Even if he does recover in time for the preseason, he’ll be in for an uphill battle as he would likely have to win a roster spot over Simon Despres or Robert Bortuzzo, unless the Penguins decide to go with eight defensemen or someone suffers an injury. On a related note, Olli Maatta, who also underwent shoulder surgery in May, is about two weeks ahead of Pouliot in his recovery.