I'm going to be honest, when the Rangers originally signed Beniot Pouliot this past offseason I didn't know much about him.
He seemed like the typical perimeter player, who was afraid to go into the dirty areas to score a goal. But his offensive skill was undeniable, so I just hoped he needed to find the right offensive scheme to live up to his potential.
Unfortunately, my initial concerns were confirmed in the early season as Pouliot rarely used his big body to drive to the goal and generally just looked lost in Alain Vigneault's system (2g, 3a in first 29 games this season), which led to comments like this from the Rangers head coach (via Newsday)…
"You only get so many kicks at the can here, you only get so many teams. Obviously a guy like Ben, a high pick, a high skill level, you see it now and then and you go, ‘Wow, why does the consistency or whatever is, not there on a more regular basis?’ That’s a question we’re trying to figure out with him, obviously he’s aware of it."
Those comments did not ignite Pouliot, so AV was forced to scratch him twice in early December. Upon return from his Dec. 10th seat in the press box, the Rangers head coach placed his enigmatic winger on a line with the equally struggling Carl Hagelin and the recently recalled JT Miller. For whatever the reason it clicked.
Hagelin had the speed. Miller offered more of a physical game. And astoundingly Pouliot was displaying a mix of the two. The 2005 fourth overall pick was skating hard, becoming a relentless forechecker and it was translating into points. I have no idea what went through Pouliot's head while watching his teammates from above, but it looks like he decided to reflect on his game and make the proper adjustments.
Another smart decision Vigneault made regarding Pouliot was taking advantage of his new found physical game by placing him in front of the net on the power play. In his eighth NHL season, Pouliot was finally using his big body to make plays. He was causing havoc down low and making life difficult for goaltenders. His immense talent was also on display as he provided four power play goals from Dec. 20-29 all from directly in front of the goal.
Since being played on a line with play-makers Derrick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, his game has been taken to another level as that line has easily been the Rangers greatest offensive threat the last three weeks and one of the biggest reasons for the Rangers turnaround.
Now, Vigneault has much more positive things to say about Pouliot (via Daily News)…
“Some players are a little bit harder to understand what gets them going and what makes them play; Ben’s figured out what gets him going,” Vigneault said Friday. “I don’t want to know what it is. I just want him to do it. I get the fact that his game with his size and his speed he gets in on the forecheck. He’s a big man. He’s strong on the puck. He’s strong finishing his checks. He needs to keep doing that. That’s how he’s real useful to that line and to our team.”
So, how good has Pouliot been since that healthy scratch? Since Dec. 15th, he has points in 12 of 15 games which includes five goals and seven assists. Not bad for a guy who was probably a week away from being waived when the calendar turn from November to December.
…i can't believe I'm saying this, but if Pouliot can sustain this effort for the remainder of the year, I'd absolutely love to see him back next season. Based on his past, I'm not sure I'd trust him on anything more than a one year deal, but I wouldn't go nuts if Sather offered him a two-year, $4.5M (total) contract this summer.