Who is Benoit Pouliot

Monday afternoon the Montreal Canadiens traded disgruntled forward Guillaume Latendresse to the Minnesota Wild for another forward, Ottawa-native Benoit Pouliot. Pouliot, once a highly-touted prospect who was drafted 4th overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft (one rank before Carey Price), never blossomed under Jacques Lemaire in Minnesota.

The situation did not change under new head-coach Todd Richards for Pouliot. Through 14 games, the 6′3” 200 lbs left winger has recored only two goals and two assists for four points. He also has 12 penalty minutes. Pouliot, currently sidelined by a hand injury, has not played since November 13th in Washington. He is still seven to ten days away before returning to action.

In 65 games with the Wild since the 2006-07 season, the 23-year-old Pouliot has notched nine goals and nine assists for 18 points. Pouliot played most of the past few seasons with the Minnesota’s AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros. In 141 games in the AHL, he has scored 38 goals and recorded 46 assists for a total of only 84 points.

Not the kind of production the Wild expected from a first round choice who was supposed to become a dominant forward at the NHL level. Pouliot, who won a gold medal with Canada at the 2006 World Junior Championships, is an explosive skater with good puck-handling abilities and a hard, accurate shot. He has the tools to be a top-line forward in the NHL, which is what the Canadiens expect of him.

However, questions about his negative attitude, commitment to playing defense and consistency, game in game out, have harmed him since turning pro. He has to improve the mental side of his game and learn to become more disciplined towards the game, both on and off the ice. If he is unable to improve the negative aspects of his game, he could find himself playing in Europe a la Pierre Dagenais.

Pouliot needs to go to the net more if he wants to be a true goal scorer. When he goes to the net, he’s got to put his stick on the ice, and stop keeping it at waist high. Specifically, he’s got to stop at the net and not skate by it like many tentative young players lacking confidence often do.

He also needs ice time and quality linemates. Pouliot will never blossomed if he’s used on the fourth line with checkers. Pouliot, just like Latendresse desperately needed a change in scenery to turn his overall game around and regain his confidence. The Canadiens plan to sit with Pouliot and assess his overall play in order to improve his deficiencies and build upon his numerous strengths. Pouliot has to make the sacrifices to become a great NHL player and don’t become the next Pavel Brendl.

Pouliot overcame bigger challenges than this one in his life, especially when his father died of illness at the young age of 44 when Benoit was just a teenager playing for the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL. At the time, he was still undrafted by an NHL team.

If Pouliot can handle the media scrutiny and the intense pressure Habs’ players face each game in Montreal, he might finally become the French-speaking star player the Canadiens have been looking for since Patrick Roy was traded to the Colorado Avalanche 13 years-ago. (I’m not saying he is the Guy Lafleur!)

When Gionta and Gomez come back from their respective injuries it would be nice if Jacques Martin tried him on their left wing to see what he can do with highly skilled forwards.

Boom or bust, what do you think Pouliot will become?