Pouliot knows Pens have ‘really tough roster to crack,’ and now’s his chance to do it

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When the Pens made Derrick Pouliot the eighth overall pick in 2012, they did so with the impression he’d blossom into a quality NHL defenseman.

Four years later, they’re still waiting — so is Pouliot, for that matter — which is why the next few weeks are vitally important. With Kris Letang and Trevor Daley sidelined (week-to-week) by injuries, the 22-year-old has a big opportunity for significant playing time.

“This is a really tough roster to crack,” Pouliot said, per the Post-Gazette. “It is a really big opportunity to kind of show coaches and management what I can do. They’re [Letang and Daley] not going to be out for very long, so I’ve got a short period to do it.”

Pouliot’s played a grand total of three NHL games this year, missing extended time with a back injury. That ailment did allow him to log some important minutes in AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during a conditioning stint, rather than “just sitting around” in Pittsburgh (his words, not ours).

In Saturday’s OT loss to the Leafs, Pens head coach Mike Sullivan rolled a defensive unit comprised of Pouliot, Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, Steve Oleksy and Justin Schultz. Pouliot finished with a healthy 19:19 TOI, which included a career-high 3:03 on the penalty kill.

This really is the time for Pouliot to try and make his mark. There’s always been considerable pressure on him, given his lofty draft position and what the Pens gave up (Jordan Staal, essentially) to get into that spot.

But now, there’s an added dimension. Several of his draft mates are well ahead in their development, including the blueliner taken one spot later — Jacob Trouba, who has six points in 19 games for the Jets since ending his holdout, while averaging just under 24 minutes per night.

Related: Under Pressure: Derrick Pouliot