Even after opting not to extend pending restricted free agent Benoit Pouliot a qualifying offer last week, Steve Yzerman remained confident a deal to add the winger would nonetheless get done.
On Sunday, in the early hours of the official first day of the 2012 free agency period, it did.
The Lightning agreed to a one-year deal with Pouliot, who was acquired from the Boston Bruins in a trade at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh in exchange for the Bolts’ fifth-round pick and minor-leaguer Michel Ouellet.
Pouliot had previously not been issued a qualifying offer earlier in the week as a result of a strategic move by the team, which prevented the forward from invoking his arbitration rights.
A former first-round pick of the Minnesota Wild at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Pouliot 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.”
Yzerman also added 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.
Pouliot was acquired from the Boston Bruins in exchange for the Bolts’ fifth-round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and minor-leaguer Michel Ouellet
“We talked about it,” Yzerman added, “but we were pursuing other things and we missed out on him.”
Not the case this time, as Pouliot now has potential to make an immediate impact and fill a major need at left wing.
For starters, he is 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.
“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.”