VANCOUVER — A trade prior to the start of the season brought Derrick Pouliot to Vancouver. An injury to the club’s top blue liner, Alex Edler, presented a chance for the former Penguins prospect to get into the Canucks lineup.
Through seven games, Pouliot’s confidence is beginning to grow with the Canucks, who have started to roll over the past few games despite expectations that they would once again struggle in the Western Conference despite a number of offseason acquisitions and a coaching change.
Selected eighth overall by the Penguins in 2012, Pouliot had never played a full regular season for Pittsburgh, instead splitting his time between the minors and the NHL since joining that organization. Just prior to the start of this season, the Canucks decided to take a chance on the left-shooting defenseman, sending Andrey Pedan and a fourth-round pick in 2018 to Pittsburgh.
In Vancouver, Pouliot re-joins his old Portland Winterhawks teammate Sven Baertschi and coach Travis Green. He acknowledged that it’s nice knowing some familiar faces as he gets more familiar with his new team. On the ice, Pouliot has three assists while being used on the point on the power play.
“I feel good out there on the ice. Hockey is fun and it’s good to come to the rink every day,” said Pouliot last week, after the Canucks thumped the Washington Capitals. “The change of scenery is sometimes all you need.
“Getting more comfortable with the guys, how they play, the guys’ habits … and then just playing a regular shift, playing every night. It really helps your confidence grow and your overall game develop.”
Pouliot is so far averaging just below 16 minutes of ice time per game on the third pairing, while posting a Corsi For rating of just under 52 per cent at five-on-five, per Corsica. Known as a player that can quarterback the power play from the blue line, the Canucks have given him opportunities with the advantage at 2:51 per game in the absence of Edler.
While the Penguins were willing to move on from the now 23-year-old blue liner, Canucks general manager Jim Benning admitted at the time of the trade that they have had interest in Pouliot dating back to his junior days and the hope is that his offensive potential, which he has shown in the WHL and then when he made the jump to the AHL, will pay off in Vancouver. The belief from Benning was that Pouliot fit in well with the style Green wanted to play, and he was confident it was worth the chance as the team searches to find more offense throughout its lineup.
Pouliot also isn’t the first player struggling to make the full-time jump to the NHL that the Canucks have taken a chance on in recent years. Baertschi and Markus Granlund were both prospects in the Flames system, splitting time between the NHL and AHL but ultimately unable to secure full-time roster spots in Calgary before they were acquired in trades with Vancouver.
“I think he’s a guy that plays with a lot of confidence most of the time and he makes his plays,” said Baertschi of Pouliot.
“The way I know him from back in junior is he’s exactly the same player, still. Maybe a little more mature now. But he still wants to make plays. Sometimes you don’t expect that exact play but he’s still going to make it and that’s what makes him such a good player.”