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Acquisition of rights to Benoit Pouliot provides Lightning with opportunity to gain a lot

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

Although Steve Yzerman’s goal heading into the final day of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft was to select players who he hopes will contribute to the Lightning’s success in the future, he couldn’t help but to address the team’s needs for the present too.

In exchange for the Lightning’s fifth-round pick Saturday and minor-leaguer Michel Ouellet, Yzerman acquired the rights to left wing Benoit Pouliot from the Boston Bruins to help bolster the team’s roster for the upcoming 2012-13 season.

Pouliot, a former first-round pick of the Minnesota Wild at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, is a veteran of 257 career NHL games with 53 goals and 104 points in that span, but who at 6-foot-3 also brings size, for which the Lightning are still in need.

“He’s a big guy who can skate, who has good hands and who is still relatively young,” Yzerman said. “We think he can play among the top nine and really help us, and we still think he has potential to become better.”

Before that happens though, Yzerman must take care of a few housekeeping chores.

Because Pouliot is a pending restricted free agent, and because the Lightning only posses his rights, Yzerman still must extend him a qualifying offer before he can sign him under contract.

That said, when asked where he hopes to see Pouliot fit in next season, Yzerman joked, “hopefully in Tampa.”

But all kidding aside, the prospect of adding Pouliot to the Bolts’ lineup next season is an attractive one for the Lightning.

Yzerman said that while he engaged in no talks to acquire Pouliot at any point during the 2011-12 season, he did admit there were conversations regarding the forward during last summer’s free agency period, although nothing materialized.

“We talked about it,” Yzerman added, “but we were pursuing other things and we missed out on him.”

Pouliot instead landed with the Bruins, for whom he registered 16 goals and 32 points in 74 games, while also finishing the regular season with an NHL career-high plus-18 rating. But there is also more to the forward in terms of what he brings to the table that does not appear on the stats sheet.

The Lightning acquired Pouliot from the Boston Bruins in exchange for Michel Ouellet and a 5th round draft pick.

For one, Pouliot has potential to make an immediate impact and fill a major need at left wing. He is also versatile, and according to Yzerman, “capable of playing with top guys.” Although highly skilled offensively, Pouliot also possesses size and grit, and is believed to be a player who could drastically aid the Lightning in secondary scoring as a valuable member of the third line.

“He averages about 15 to 16 goals per year, he’s a big boy who can play on the power play, and he’s not afraid to go in front of the net,” said Lightning head coach Guy Boucher, who formerly coached Pouliot in Hamilton of the American Hockey League. “I think he falls into the category of a Sean Bergenheim or a Teddy Purcell. He reminds me of those guys a lot.”

While Boucher also said Pouliot has “a lot of upside,” it perhaps has been somewhat masked by consistency issues since entering the league as a rookie in 2006-07.

After spending parts of four seasons in Minnesota, Pouliot was shipped to the Montreal Canadiens at the beginning of the 2009-10 season, when he began to earn more playing time and see his numbers jump as a result. After two seasons with the Habs, Pouliot signed a one-year deal with the Bruins, with whom he enjoyed a career season, that was set to expire on July 1.

“I obviously didn’t start out that well,” Pouliot told reporters via telephone conference call on Saturday. “But I feel like my game has grown, definitely more both ways. I feel like I’ve learned a lot.”

Now with a newfound sense of optimism, Pouliot is anxious to make the most of a new opportunity.

“It's big for me to get a chance to play with Tampa,” Pouliot added. “You never know what can happen, so I'm real excited to get started.”

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