It has to be a candidate for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ goal of the season.
(video courtesy Hershey Bears/SendToNews)
Derrick Pouliot’s first tally of the 2016-17 campaign was a phenomenal individual effort last Sunday against the Hershey Bears. The Pens defenseman picked up a puck in his own end, carried it through the neutral zone untouched, then went forehand-backhand while facing Colby Wilson and nearly falling into a split. His shot from between the hashmarks beat goaltender Vitek Vanacek glove side, tying the game 3-3 at that point.
But the goal was almost secondary for head coach Clark Donatelli who, while happy for his young blueliner to get on the scoresheet, was equally as impressed with his defensive effort.
“I was happy with his game, not that he scored,” Donatelli stated. “I thought he played solid defensively and he was taking care of his own end.”
That assessment bodes well for Pouliot, who will turn 23 next week. Offensive output has been a major part of his game dating back to his junior days with the Portland Winterhawks (he picked up 205 points in 247 games with the team). That point production continued during his first two seasons with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, when he recorded 47 points in 68 games with the club.
The knock against Pouliot during his early career has been play in his own end. But he’s starting to show that he’s become a more responsible player patrolling the defensive zone than in seasons past.
“I just think he’s getting more and more confidence,” Donatelli said. “In the ‘D’ zone he’s engaging quicker. The one-on-one battles, he’s winning. I think the more he plays the better he’s going to get, to where he’s a dominant player in this league.”
The Penguins first round pick in the 2012 draft, Pouliot began the season with the NHL Penguins, but suffered an injury in his first action of the season on October 20, which sidelined him for the next month.
Pouliot shuttled between the two teams for much of December, but has been suiting up in Wilkes-Barre since just before the first of the year. And having a little stability has served him well, as he’s appeared in seven straight games with the AHL club, picking up seven points, posting a plus-9 rating and helping the team to five wins in the process.
“I think that’s just confidence – getting out there, playing again, and having some fun,” Donatelli said. “He has to be hard in front of the net, boxing out and going to those hard areas. His retrievals have always been good.”
And with David Warsofsky recently being recalled by Pittsburgh, Pouliot figures to see even more ice time.
“He’s going to be killing some penalties, picking up some of (Warsofsky’s) slack,” Donatelli stated. “So it’s a great opportunity for him to get into the game a little bit more.”