Undersized defensemen can make a living in the NHL these days, but they need big skill to compensate for their physical shortcomings. In the case of Derrick Pouliot of the Portland Winterhawks, the Saskatchewan native will be looking to be an early first round pick and exploit those offensive skills.
Playing for a powerhouse of the Western League, Pouliot got plenty of minutes with NHL draft picks and was a big performer at the Top Prospects Game. While mixed reviews for his WHL playoff performances have caused his stock to tumble a little bit, it would be a surprise to see him slip past the first round.
Born: January 16, 1994
What people in the know know
1. How would you assess the way you played in the playoffs, with the Winterhawks again reaching the final but coming up shy?
“It was disappointing this year, especially with it being the second year that we were there. We had a good team and were confident. We had a good chance and let it slip away … You just got to bring it every night. I felt like in Game 7, our team didn’t have the best game [giving up the first four goals in a 4-1 loss]. You can’t take nights off in the playoffs.”
2. Whom in the NHL do you really watch for specific things?
“I kind of watch [Los Angeles Kings star] Drew Doughty. Great poise, great offensive abilities, good two-way guys. I try to be more intense and more aggressive like those guys are.”
3. What are some specific components of the game you need to brush up on before you will be ready to turn pro?
“I need to work on my shot and be more of a threat on the power play. I have to work on my defensive play, being more aggressive on guys and more intense.”
4. What teammates have had the greatest impact on you, not necessarily with the Winterhawks?
“Probably [NHL first-round picks] Sven Bärtschi [of Calgary] or Joe Morrow [of Pittsburgh], just seeing those guys go through the process. They both have unbelievable skill and hopefully they’ll be in the NHL next year. Watching and learning from how hard they work has been a valuable experience.”
5. Favourite road rink in the Dub?
“Seattle. It [the ShoWare Center] is a nice rink and they don’t like us very much there. We play pretty well there.”
The Weyburn, Saskatchewan product says he’d compare himself to players with patience and poise like Drew Doughty or Nicklas Lidstrom, as he tries to incorporate those qualities into his own game. This year’s draft class is filled with great defencemen that might eventually be compared to those two NHL’ers down the road. How does Pouliot feel he stands out from the rest?
“Everybody brings a little something different to the table but I think I have a great offensive upside,” he said. “And this year I improved my defensive game. I can play in both ends of the rink but I have that strong offensive side and that’s going to be the main thing to separate myself from the other guys.”
Pouliot interviewed with 23 teams at the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto earlier in June and like every other prospect in the draft class, he’s counting down the days until he hears his name called up to the stage.
“You look at [the rankings] a little bit but in the end they don’t really matter at all. It’s what the team is looking for and every team has a different idea and anything can happen.
“It’s a dream come true though…it’s one step closer to fulfilling my dream of making the NHL. I’ll have to start all over but it’s really exciting and I’m looking forward to it.”
Who does Pouliot turn to for draft advice as the date inches closer?
“I’ve talked to a lot of guys on my team who have gone through it over the last two years. They’ve just said the biggest thing is to have fun and enjoy it. It’s a once in a lifetime thing so you’ve got to enjoy it.”
Though he played for one of the premier teams in the CHL, Pouliot may have been even better if he skated next to an elite blueliner. That’s the impression scouts had.
“Seeing him at the Top Prospects Game, he was paired with Griffin Reinhart and looked solid,” said one scout. “He needs to play with better players in Portland.”
The Winterhawks do have other excellent D-men such as NHL draftees Joe Morrow, Tyler Wotherspoon and Troy Rutkowski, but the pairings often changed. When he was given the big stage at The Prospects Game, Pouliot was a difference-maker and a star in the strangely low-scoring affair.
Back in the PDX, he’s doing all he can for the Hawks using his skating and good first pass to start the play. “The rest of his game is solid,” the scout said. “A little bit of a cranky streak, which is nice to see.”
Pouliot only fights on occasion, but rarely loses when he does.
Pouliot is a very talented defender but what he can do still remains a bit of a mystery. Obviously the desire to see him get more minutes with quality partners and depth chart shuffling hide his ceiling a little bit, but he still brings quality tools to the table and should be drafted accordingly.
As things stand I have him going off to Calgary with the 14th overall pick.