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Oilers see Pouliot starting to realize his potential

by Derek Van Diest

The No. 4 pick in the 2005 NHL Draft, Benoit Pouliot will be playing for his sixth team in six seasons as a member of the Edmonton Oilers.

Despite Pouliot's travels, the Oilers saw enough in the right wing to offer a five-year, $20-million contract this offseason, hoping he can fill a void in their lineup.

Pouliot, 27, comes off a strong run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the New York Rangers, making him an attractive free agent candidate for the Oilers, who were looking to add size up front.

"It's the work ethic really for me," Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish said. "He's an excellent skater who closes gaps and is able to get quickly to forechecks, and it's something that was sorely lacking in our game throughout our lineup. We think that Benoit is going to provide that, and he's got some ability to finish as well."

Pouliot entered the League as a highly touted offensive threat, scoring 35 goals and 65 points in 51 games for the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League in his final year of junior hockey. The product of Alfred, Ontario, was selected by the Minnesota Wild and expected to develop into a first-line player at the NHL level.

Pouliot struggled in Minnesota, however, spending parts of four seasons with the Wild before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens midway through the 2009-2010 season. After a year and a half in Montreal, Pouliot moved on to play with Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Rangers before signing with the Oilers.

"Everything in the past three years has been really positive and my game just keeps getting better and better," Pouliot said during an offseason visit to Edmonton. "I feel good about that. It's a lot of hard work, but at the end, it pays off, so it was good.

"You have to bring what you can bring. For me, being a little bit more physical and bigger, you don't really change anything in the way you play, you just try to do what the coach wants you to do."

The Oilers want Pouliot to provide a physical presence to the top half of their lineup, while adding secondary scoring for the team. The Oilers are hoping Pouliot can grow into the offensive player he was expected to be coming out of junior.

Last season with the Rangers, Pouliot had his most productive year with 15 goals and 36 points in 80 regular-season games. He added five goals and five assists in 25 playoff games as the Rangers made it to the Stanley Cup Final.

"Everybody grows with experience, and generally you catch up to the expectation, you seldom arrive there," MacTavish said. "I think that he started his career considerably further behind the expectation, but I think he's closed that gap and now he's catching up to those expectations and we hope there is more growth ahead. Even if he's not scoring, he's providing energy for the group and physical play."

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