The problem with this post is that it will appear as though I’m making excuses, so let me say up front that the reason for doing it is the disconnect between Marc Pouliot’s draft number, implied value and current performance.
I’m not one of those people who buys into the theory that players from specific geographic areas or ethnic backgrounds are “tougher”, “more skilled” or in any way greater or lesser based on anything other than God-given skills.
You is or you ain’t.
One of the things I’ve always believed about prospects is that the key year is their draft season, their 17-year old season. After they are drafted, junior (or college) players usually move up the depth chart based on age and experience, but you have to be pretty damn good to get 500 at-bats at 17 in the Q, W or O.
Redline Report wrote born in Quebec City, Quebec 5/22/85. Pouliot is considered a very good two way player. He pays attention to his own end of the ice which is surprising for a Quebec League player. He also played for a bad team in the Rimouski Oceanic. Scouts reportedly would only go to see him play and the assessment was a question: how much better could he have been if he had some wingers to play with? There also were some questions as to whether he was taking some nights off. Still, there are those who think he is an exceptional talent and could be a solid second line center in the NHL. Pouliot played for Team Canada at the recent WJC’s. He recorded only 2 goals, but had 9 points in 7 games. He scored 32 goals in his second year in the QMJHL last year. Look for him to increase those numbers next season.
My knowledge of Marc-Antoine Pouliot’s injury problems began at the top prospects game when Dion Phaneuf leveled him with a vicious (and imo clean) check that gave him a concussion. I have read he had some back problems the previous season but could never verify it.
Fast forward to the draft. Quoting Pouliot “The Edmonton Oilers are one of my favorite teams, to play for a Canadian team is just awesome. They met me twice, and I thought they were interested in me. When they picked me, it was awesome.”
Indeed it was.
After being drafted Pouliot had some bad luck. In the summer of 2003 he got hurt at the Canadian WJC camp in Calgary (hip) and that had a major impact on his 18-year old season. It also hurt his performance at the Oilers rookie camp just two months after being drafted. In November 2003 he suffered an abdominal injury and missed the Q/Russia prospects game and he played on 42 QMJHL games that season, finally having surgery in Montreal in summer 2004 to repair the abdominal tissues.
There also appears to be another injury during the 2003-04 season. Quoting Kevin Prendergast in an interview with Guy Flaming (HF) from spring 2004 “He plays hard and gets slashed and hacked but he did play three weeks with a broken wrist which goes to show you that he’s a pretty tough kid to be able to go through that pain. He’s the captain of his team for a reason. He’s creative, gritty, he’s got really good hockey sense. We fully anticipate that this kid is going to be a number one center in the NHL.”
He had a wonderful 04-05, healthy and playing with Sidney Crosby. Quoting an NHL scout “Pouliot has progressed and done everything he has to do to become a great pro. His skating, his first step and his speed have all improved while his commitment and his skills were always good. I don’t know if I’ve seen a kid from that draft year whose curve has gone upwards as much as his has.”
That’s the beauty 2003 draft. Marc Pouliot played 90 games in a row (including Mem Cup) to end his junior career and turned pro as a 1st rder with high expectations. This was the period when the Oilers were farming out their juniors to whatever team could promise them work plus room and board. He went to Hamilton and started slowly there for coach Don Lever: “I put Marc on right wing about three weeks ago and then he started to come on a bit and he had a seven or eight-game point streak. He has great offensive skills as far as passing the puck and he does have better than average skating which we’re starting to see. It’s been the last two or three weeks where he’s started to come on and skating better and that’s made him a lot more effective.”
It was during this period that it was first mentioned that Pouliot might not be that “1line center” talked about in a quote above. 2line, checking line came into the conversation and the idea that he would be a winger or utility player became a possibility. He was named the Bulldogs MVP in 05-06 and played in his first NHL games. There was talk that he would be part of the playoff run but that became a distant bell with news that Pouliot had mono and had been sent home.
Fall ’06 was Pouliot’s “window”, his opportunity to grab an NHL job and work toward establishing himself as an NHL regular. Summer saw nice words from a scout in the organization: “The progression he has made over the last year by turning pro, starting slow, playing very well then coming to the NHL and fitting in, it’s just the tip of the iceberg of what he can bring. He’s done nothing but impress a lot of people this past year.”
He did not make the team, and what’s more when the first callup was required Edmonton chose Toby Petersen. On November 19 they sent out JF Jacques, but chose Zack Stortini as the callup. Finally when Ales Hemsky was injured November 28, 2006 the Oilers recalled Pouliot. During his 46 NHL games in 06-07, he played well and showed signs of being a player who could help a major league team. His game in Toronto (the penalty shot game) would have to rank as his career high-water mark at this point in time.
Entering this fall I felt Pouliot had a job sewn up. At the JM Cup update I posted Marc Pouliot: Impressed me on several levels today. The goal was nice (not for the shot) because he made a nifty move at the end to get a better shooting angle and clearance from the defender. He battled every shift and paid a price physically (I think it was Smid who hit him pretty damn hard) and made a stunning pass to Marty for what would have been an easy goal but Marty didn’t have his GD stick on the ice. 1 goal, 1 assist.
However, the Oilers had moved him off center and put him in with the role players and checkers, giving the cherry minutes and skilled linemates to Cogliano, Gagner and others. At a very young age, it looked for all the world like Pouliot was getting long in the tooth for this Oilers team. He made the club out of camp but did not adjust to his role and now finds himself as a 1line center in the AHL. That’s exactly where he was back in Hamilton in ’05.
The reasons for his lack of progress have been tossed around endlessly. Conditioning, the lack of an AHL franchise during his first pro seasons, lack of desire on his part and his ethnic background.
I don’t buy ethnic background, and am at least dubious about desire. Conditioing we can talk about, and I’d also like to explore those injuries as a possibility.
Especially the ones during his junior career.