Kukla's Korner Hockey
by The Upper Canadien on 10/19/10 at 05:40 PM ET
It’s a pretty quiet week in Montreal, given that the Canadiens don’t play until Thursday night. The most notable move today in practice was the insertion of Tom Pyatt on the wing with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, as Jacques Martin searches for reliable scoring from his second line. As you may recall, the Habs have already had Benoit Pouliot and Travis Moen in that spot over the Canadiens first five games. While the line hasn’t been particularly effective, as a fan I question Martin’s line juggling this early in the year - and one thing in particular concerns me. More than anything, I am worried by Martin’s use of Benoit Pouliot.
Many Habs fans will point to the fact that Benoit Pouliot is 24 years old as proof that he has already developed. In other words, what you see is what you get. I’m not so sure that’s a fact. In a few quick sentences, I’ll state my case.
Fact one: we’re five games in, and people are all over poor Benny. Folks, the guy has 2 assists in the five games and he has been all over the ice. He is extremely fast for a 6’4’’ skater, and he uses his body wherever possible, hitting the opposition and grinding in the corners. From listening to call-in shows you’d think the guy had been floating all over the ice. That is not the case.
Fact two: last year, Pouliot arrived in Montreal and scored 15 goals in 39 games. Towards the end of the year, he was playing some of these games hurt. Sure, he wasn’t good in the playoffs, but he was still nursing an injury. He was also 23 and newly arrived in the world’s most microscopically-focused hockey market. Despite the pressure of replacing fan favourite Guillaume Latendresse, Pouliot put up 24 points in 39 games with the Habs last season. That’s respectable, if not an achievement for a 23 year old. Contrary to popular belief (or what you’d believe based on fan feedback) he was not a terrible acquisition and he did contribute positively in Montreal.
Fact three: Pouliot has had a rough go of it over the past few years. His father died very suddenly from an awful battle with cancer while he was in junior. He turned to alcohol. He ended up on the wrong side of the law. Things haven’t exactly been gone smoothly for him, and he’s only a few years removed from this.
Why do I state all these facts? Because Benoit Pouliot was drafted fifth overall, he was a dominant junior player, and he has exceptional hockey skills. Not only that, but he plays hard all the time, something the player he was dealt for did not do. Pouliot may not be Guy Lafleur, but he’s a solid NHLer who is still developing into his role. So why do I question his role with the Habs?
Jacques Martin has a history of not handling young NHLers all that well. Just ask Jason Spezza. Jason Spezza was a frequent scratch in Ottawa and had many-a-battle with Martin through the media. However, the difference here is that Martin and Pouliot are from the same area of Ontario and from what I have read the coach has known him since he was young. Perhaps in bumping him down to the third line Martin is trying to take the pressure off a young player? I’m not sure. But the fact remains that Pouliot had a game or two, at best, to establish himself alongside Gomez and Gionta. That’s not long enough.
So I hope we see Benoit Pouliot riding shotgun with Gomez and Gionta again very soon. I hope we see him on the power play. And I hope he starts scoring goals. I can’t believe Pouliot’s confidence is anything but damaged at this point, considering he’s been bumped to a checking line despite hard work on a nightly basis. Maybe Jacques Martin has been speaking to him in private? We don’t have the benefit of knowing. But what I do know is that 24 year old former top five draft picks are assets few and far between, and Pouliot has demonstrated in a short time that he has what it takes to be a competent and successful NHLer.
I just hope he gets the chance in Montreal.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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