ST. PAUL – Benoit Pouliot is back in his old stomping grounds, but he feels more at home in Minnesota as a visitor.
When the Wild plucked Pouliot from the crowd fourth overall at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, it should have been the first step in the young winger’s NHL career. But after four seasons of bouncing up and down between Minnesota and their AHL affiliate in Houston, the Alfred, ON native finally got his first real opportunity a little closer to home.
“It’s been a long time,” admitted Pouliot, who will face his former team for the first time since being traded to the Habs for Guillaume Latendresse in November 2009. “I had the chance to see some of my old friends a little bit yesterday which was nice, but it’s been a long time since I’ve played here. It was last year, so it’s kind of in the past for me now.”
An offensive force in his OHL days in Sudbury, Pouliot had a hard time conforming to the chip and chase defensive stylings of then-Wild coach Jacques Lemaire. After piling up just 18 points in 65 games in his four seasons in St. Paul, the 24-year-old already has nine more than that in 69 games with the Habs this year alone.
“It feels a little like I had unfinished business here. I didn’t really ever get my chance to show what I can do so it was a bit of a shame,” he confessed. “But when I found out I had been traded to Montreal that definitely gave me a boost. The Canadiens gave me my chance and I have no regrets about what happened here.”
Currently in a race with the Bruins for the division lead, the Habs realize that every point matters at this time of year. But the two points up for grabs on Sunday night may be even more valuable for the 11th place Wild, who are on the outside-looking-in and sitting six points out of a playoff berth.
“These are an important two points for us, but in the West the playoff race is really crazy right now,” mentioned Pouliot. “We just have to worry about our own game and think about getting a win here. I think they’ve lost five in a row now, so we have to capitalize on that and play a big game tonight.
“The first period and the first couple of shifts are going to be really important to bounce back from Friday night,” he added of the 6-3 loss to the Rangers. “We just have to play our game which means we have to use our speed. We have to play the way we know we’re capable of.” Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.See also:Habs head to Minnesota for rare meeting with Wild Moving partsThe Numbers Game - March 18 More of the same The Replacements