Saturday, September 21, 2019

Pouliot wants to prove he belongs at highest level, feels fit with Blues is best for former first-round pick

The No. 8 pick in 2012 NHL Draft anxious to leave lasting impression 
on St. Louis coaching staff, ready to make defensive decisions tough

ST. LOUIS -- As the No. 8 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, no matter how he was going to get thrust into the NHL, there would be an expectation from Derrick Pouliot.

High draft picks are instantaneously supposed to be instant impact players, those that can be designated as franchise changers, ones that would be reflective for the ensuing decade, or even longer.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Derrick Pouliot spent the past two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks. He
Signed a one-year, one-way contract with the Blues this past summer.

Pouliot, taken by the Pittsburgh Penguins and their high-powered offense, was supposed to fit in like a glove and be part of that next wave of offensive defensemen who put up 205 points (42 goals, 163 assists) in 247 regular-season games for Portland of the Western Hockey League.

A native of Estevan, Saskatchewan, Pouliot was going to give the Penguins another offensive weapon from the defensive end, perhaps be the left-handed version of Kris Letang.

But as Pouliot tries to win a job with the Blues after signing a one-year, two-way contract ($700,000/$425,000) with the idea of creating an already bigger logjam on the blue line, going from high-end first round pick to trying to win a job seven years later has been a humbling experience.

Pouliot, a 6-foot, 196-pound left-handed shot, played in his second preseason game for the Blues in a 4-3 overtime win at Winnipeg on Friday night, his second game. It was another solid performance, playing 20 minutes 52 seconds and assisting on David Perron's game-tying goal late in the third period. The Blues are pretty much set with their top seven on the blue line, including Jay Bouwmeester, Joel Edmundson and Vince Dunn along the left side, but creating more depth along the blue line gives the coaching staff more to think about.

"These guys won a Cup last year, they're close, they've got that bond, they're all good players," Pouliot said. "Everybody knows what they can do and what they can bring to the table. I guess you just have to try and play your game and hopefully you can do some stuff a little bit better than other guys, whether it's you crack it right away or a little later on during the year. Stuff happens. Guys get injured, you never want to see that happen, but it's an opportunity sometimes."

That's all Pouliot, who spent the past two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks (six goals, 28 assists in 133 games), can ask. And despite multiple teams being interested in his services, Pouliot felt this was the right fit.

"There's a couple teams that showed interest, but it's really trying to find a good fit, somewhere you hope to get an opportunity or there's an opportunity to work your way up through the organization," Pouliot said. "This seemed like the best option. It's been good so far.

"Their D are very active. They're encouraged to get up in the play. I think skating is a big strength of my game. Whenever the D are able to surf up, get up on the forwards, when they're trying to break out and make plays in the offensive zone and stuff like that, I think that suits my game more."

The Penguins thought so highly of Pouliot, he was chosen in that draft class ahead of the likes of Jacob Trouba (No, 9, Winnipeg), Filip Forsberg (No. 11, Washington), Tomas Hertl (No. 17, San Jose), Andrei Vasilevskiy (No, 19, Tampa Bay), Shayne Gostisbehere (No. 78, Philadelphia), even Colton Parayko (No. 86, Blues) and Connor Hellebuyck (No. 130, Winnipeg). But things didn't work out with the Penguins, who signed Pouliot to a three-year, $4.05 million entry-level contract Sept. 14, 2012 before getting traded to the Canucks Oct. 3, 2017 for defenseman Andrey Pedan and a fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

"It's been up and down a little bit," Pouliot said of his career. "For lots of guys that are picked in the first round, I think everybody expects them to kind of take off right away. It's different for everybody. My path was a little slower, played in the American League a bit and I'm starting to find my way through the NHL. If I stick to my game, get back to moving the puck, skating, the system that these guys run here is perfect for that. It's a good opportunity.

"You can't make excuses. Obviously they didn't think I played well enough or safe enough. They were trying to win right away and they did win right away. My defensive game has improved over the years. If I was where I'm at now back then, maybe I would have stuck there. But you can't make excuses. There's no point in dwelling in the past. I'm here right now and trying to make the best of this."

The knock on Pouliot, who has 48 points (eight goals, 40 assists) in 200 NHL games, including 14 points (two goals, 12 assists) in 67 games for Pittsburgh in three seasons, has been his defensive game. But in order to play in the Blues' system, funneling into the attack offensively is encouraged but being defensively responsible is a greater quality.

"I think definitely defensively, that was one thing when I came into the league, that everybody said that that's what you need to work on," Pouliot said. "I think that's improved. I'm trying to bring that offense that I can. When you get chances to be on the power play, jump in the play and stuff like that. That's one of my biggest strengths. ... Skating's always been a strength, but guys keep getting faster and faster. Even for guys where it came easy when they were younger, you've got to work on that stuff."

Pouliot, who got married this summer and is good friends and was a teammate of Oskar Sundqvist's in Pittsburgh, understands the hype given top picks, but now that he's out to try and prove himself again, proper perspective is key.

"It's the media and everybody kind of portrays the first-round guys as being the next group of guys to come in and play or whatever," Pouliot said. "If one thing that I've learned through my five, six years now in professional hockey is that everybody's different and everybody develops at their own pace. Nothing is handed to you. You really have to work and earn everything you get. They're not just going to give you anything because of first round status or whatever."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Derrick Pouliot, the eighth pick in the 2012 NHL
Draft by Pittsburgh, is looking for a good camp
with the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues.

Will Pouliot make the Blues out of camp? That goal is going to be hard to achieve, but can he make an impression, be on the radar as far as call-ups when needed and play the game where it needs to be at this level? It's not out of the realm of possibility.

"Take it day by day," Pouliot said. "If I can control one thing, it's how hard I work every day, what I bring each practice, each game I get to play in. That's really all I can control. If I put my best effort out there, and I work my hardest, and if things still don't work out, then I know I gave it my best shot.

"You try and make an impression where they go something like, 'Oh. This guy can play.' That's definitely something you want to do."

* NOTES -- The Blues reduced their camp roster down to 44 by assigning forwards Cameron Darcy, Zach Nastasiuk, Evan Polei, Nolan Stevens and Alexei Toropchenko, and defenseman Jake Christiansen and Rob O'Gara to San Antonio of the American Hockey League.

The Blues also put forwards Jordan Nolan, Mike Vecchione and Nick Lappin along with defensemen Jake Dotchin and Joey LaLeggia on waivers Friday for the purpose of assigning them to the Rampage ahead of San Antonio's opening of training camp on Monday.

After Friday's win in Winnipeg to put them at 2-1-0 in the preseason, the Blues open their home slate of the preseason schedule Sunday at 2:30 p.m. against Columbus. 

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