Derrick Pouliot, a Penguins defenseman taken 8th overall in the 2012 NHL draft, has been on the receiving end of a ton of criticism from Penguins fans and writers everywhere. Although Pouliot possesses impressive offensive abilities for a defenseman, he is not a very strong defensive player. Throughout his limited performances in the regular season and the playoffs, he made many notable errors, especially in his defensive zone: coughing up pucks, making bad breakout passes, and sometimes was a bit too confident with the puck.
All of that said, Derrick Pouliot will be a consistent top 6 defenseman for the Penguins next year, barring a major trade during the NHL offseason. The Penguins will likely lose both Schultz and Lovejoy (due to a lack of cap space), both of whom were top 6 defensemen for the Penguins by the seasons end. By the looks of it, the Penguins top 6 next year will be Letang, Dumoulin, Maata, Daley, Cole, and…Pouliot.
So, should we all start tearing at our hair now, waiting for Pouliot to make that one mistake in the first game of the season? Absolutely not. Give Pouliot a chance. Why, might you ask?
Well, if I have to. Here are my arguments as to why you should have some faith in #51 going into next season.
- Pouliot is only a 22-year-old. He is still extremely young as is still learning. He will get better as he plays on. Remember Kris Letang when he was 22? He was a completely offensive minded guy and was less than terrific on defense. Now he is arguably a top 5, if not the best, 2-way defenseman in hockey. Will Pouliot become Kris Letang? Highly unlikely. But will he continue to improve? Keep in mind he is working with one of the best offensive defenseman to ever play in the NHL, Sergei Gonchar. Pouliot is in great hands.
- Pouliot is an offensive defenseman. He will make mistakes. Case and point: Erik Karlsson. He was a top 3 vote getter to receive the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best all-around defenseman, and yet he is extremely offensive minded. Karlsson makes numerous mistakes due to his risky offensive play, but the rewards outweigh his mistakes. Pouliot is a very “Karlsson-like” player. His puck skills and shooting are terrific, but he lacks solid defense. Again, I do not think Pouliot will ever become Erik Karlsson, but keep in mind that mistakes will happen more with a defenseman like Pouliot as opposed to a stay at home defenseman such as Ian Cole.
- It’s easier to remember the bad stuff. As a fan, or even a writer, when you want to pick on a guy like Pouliot, you often don’t look for the good he brings, but rather you look for when he does make a mistake so he can rightfully be criticized. As I pointed out earlier, Pouliot will make mistakes. However, when evaluating his play, try to keep in mind not only the mistakes he will make, but also the offensive skill that he brings to the team, especially on the power play.
I have been a huge Pouliot fan from the day the Penguins drafted him, and I still believe he can develop into, minimally, a strong top 6 defenseman who can quarterback a power play. Pouliot is so gifted with the puck, especially with a man advantage. Have you ever seen him carry the puck on the blue line, drift with it, and wait to shoot until he sees a lane open? Not all defensemen can do that. Pouliot can.
Still have no faith in Derrick Pouliot? Well I’m not done quite yet.
I have, and always will be, a fan of advanced statistics. Out of curiosity, I decided to use war-on-ice.com to check out Pouliot’s advanced statistics and compare them to other top notch defensemen such as John Klingberg, Erik Karlsson, Kris Letang, Drew Doughty, Brett Burns, and Duncan Keith in the NHL regular season. (It should be noted that Pouliot did play less games than these other defensemen in a more limited role. That being said, he still played 22 games which I believe is a respectable sample size.) The results may surprise you.
Included in the above table are a ton of advanced statistics with a small table at the bottom as a key for what each statistic is measuring. Pouliot ranks 1st in 4 different advanced statistics, including HSCF%, SCA60, FF%, and FF%Rel. It should be noted that the “less than stellar in his defensive zone Derrick Pouliot” is the best of the 7 defensemen when it comes to scoring chances against per 60 minutes played. The only other defenseman to rank 1st in more than one category is Drew Doughty with 2. What is more incredible is that Pouliot’s average rank compared to these other extremely respectable defensemen (there are 7 in total) is 1.8. The next best is Doughty who only has an average rank of 3.1!
It is truly impressive to see how Pouliot’s advanced metrics rank against some of the top defensemen in the game. Although his sample size was smaller than that of the other defensemen, which I noted earlier, it is truly hard to ignore Pouliot’s success after seeing these advanced metrics. One could only imagine if Pouliot could at least somewhat keep up these advanced statistics while playing as a consistent top 6 defensemen…
Give Pouliot a chance.