What Does Benoit Pouliot Bring to the Table?

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After selecting him with the 4th overall pick from the 2005 draft class, Benoit Pouliot didn’t develop the way Minnesota would have preferred. Now he’ll be playing for his fifth team in five years. Is there cause for excitement after signing this mysterious drifter who seemingly walked out of the fog? I’d say so.

Benoit Pouliot 3

Not pictured: fog.

By The Numbers

Pouliot_TSN

So we have another add with size. That’s always a welcome addition to this club, especially at forward. And again like Purcell, Pouliot’s not a dinosaur or a soon-to-be-dinosaur. His 3-year point/82GP average spots him around 38 points in 82 games and from scouting reports, though it sounds like he can be a bit of a shit shift-disturber at times, he’s not hurting his team with an excess amount of penalties. Nothing but positives so far. Now for the fancier stats:

Pouliot_ExtraPouliot_Extra2

If you need a quick refresher on some of the above numbers, I introduce them here.

Even Strength Usage: From these numbers, over the past three seasons it looks as if Pouliot’s been playing consistent 3rd-line even strength minutes against 3rd-line competition with a bit of a zone-start “boost,” getting more zone starts in the offensive end than most of his teammates. That should start to frame our expectations of what kind of player MacT signed.

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Special Teams Usage: For a 3rd-liner, Pouliot tends to get a fair amount of powerplay time, getting almost a third of his team’s PP minutes over the past two seasons. Again like Purcell though, Pouliot doesn’t look to be any sort of penalty killer at all.

Possession: This is where Pouliot really starts to look like a smart pickup. Year after year, with three different teams, not only has Pouliot’s line been able to keep the puck moving forward (with a CF% >50), but his CF% Rel indicates that his team has consistently possessed the puck more when he is on the ice, than when he is not. That is huge, coming from your third line. What makes that feat more impressive is when you consider some of the forwards that Pouliot has played behind in this timespan.

2011-2012 saw Pouliot play behind the likes of Bergeron, Krejci, Marchand, Lucic, Seguin and Horton. In that same year, Boston also saw its team post stronger possession numbers with Pouliot, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley on the ice and the previous six forwards on the bench. You have to take into consideration Pouliot’s big offensive zone start boost, but that is a tremendous accomplishment nonetheless.

The Breakdown

From what we can gather from all of the above numbers, I think it’s safe to classify Pouliot as a very good, sizeable 3rd-line left winger that doesn’t need to be sheltered and can play on a team’s 2nd PP unit. His positive possession numbers across multiple teams make it hard to believe that they are just a fluke, and they also lead me to believe that if given the chance (possibly due to injuries), Pouliot might even be able to hold his own in a top-6 role.

His $4 million cap-hit will make Pouliot one of the more expensive 3rd line wingers in the league next year, and signing a free agent for five years that has never played a game for your club has its obvious risks, but there is enough to like in this player to justify the signing. That does not mean that I believe Pouliot is worth $4 million/year, BUT I do not believe that this is a gross overpayment for what he can bring. Further, whatever production may be lost from Pouliot between the ages of 28 and 33 due to aging may be mitigated, if not eliminated by the ever-rising salary cap. Should the cap rise as quickly as predicted, Pouliot could very well provide the same value on his contract in year 5 as he does in year 1. Of course, anything can happen in five years.

Year after year the Oilers have lacked a bottom-6 that could do little more than hang on, let alone drive the play to the opposition’s end, but Pouliot looks to be a part of the solution. The past three seasons, he’s been doing nothing but win the possession game. Now, he gives the Oilers a very strong port-side with Hall-Perron-Pouliot-Hendricks. I especially like that with this signing, Hendricks can go back to playing the minutes that he’s capable of performing well in. I know many fans that are big supporters of Hendricks, but it’s hard to imagine a competitive team with Hendricks on its 3rd line.

The Verdict

If it wasn’t obvious already, I am a supporter of this signing. It was an overpayment for sure, especially with such a long term, but Pouliot appears to be as smart a gamble as any. Now let’s just hope that Pouliot’s shoulder doesn’t do what Oiler shoulders do best.

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