PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Derrick Pouliot hopes to battle for a roster spot under his former coach Mike Johnston after having shoulder surgery. But first, the defenseman needs to heal.
Pouliot attended Penguins development camp last week but was unable to take the ice alongside fellow prospects. He had shoulder surgery May 21 and was expected to need 4-6 months to recover.
The 20-year-old said his recovery is coming along as expected, but he is unsure if he will be ready to compete for an opening-day roster spot.
"Obviously, I'd love to be out there right now, but just with how this has to heal, it's not really possible right now," Pouliot said. "You're kind of itching for it, but you just have to be patient. It's a slow process and it’s going to take some time.
"It's tough to tell [if I will be ready for training camp], especially since it's in only eight weeks or so. So I'm just really starting to get the rehab going at a high tempo. It's tough to say, but hopefully training camp."
Pouliot said he has been pleased with his progress.
"Everything is coming along good," he said. "It's progressing as it should and hopefully it'll be a speedy recovery. It's pretty much just bike and get my therapy going. It's not a lot right now, but it'll come."
After losing defensemen Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Deryk Engelland during free agency, a few holes have opened on the Penguins' back end. Pittsburgh signed veteran Christian Ehrhoff to a one-year contract, but young defensemen Brian Dumoulin and Pouliot have an opportunity to claim one of the open spots.
"A couple of veteran guys are out of the system now, so it's an opportunity for maybe some younger guys to step up and earn their spots," Pouliot said. "But you have to earn it and, first and foremost, get healthy."
Penguins assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald mentioned Pouliot while providing examples of players who have been, or could be, fast-tracked to the NHL.
"As far as development is concerned, we feel like we're not rushing anybody," Fitzgerald said. "The [Olli] Maattas and potential Pouliots are the exception to the rule. [There are] the [Sidney] Crosbys and [Evgeni] Malkins that come right in and play here. But the norm is to play in the American Hockey League and develop your craft down there and grown at your own pace."
Pouliot finished last season with the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League and had a career-high 17 goals, 53 assists and 70 points in 58 games. He scored five goals during the WHL playoffs, led Portland with 27 assists, and his career-high 32 postseason points ranked second.
Pouliot was coached by Johnston, who was hired as Penguins coach June 25. Pouliot said he thinks his familiarity with Johnston could give him an advantage when attempting to earn a roster spot because he understands what Johnston expects.
"I know Mike a little bit. I know what he's all about and what he's looking for, so that helps," Pouliot said. "It's good to see him here. He's going to do well in Pittsburgh. He's a calm guy. He doesn't really show his emotion on the outside, but he's a smart man. He can really get the players to play the way he wants."
Pouliot, who had experience with former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma during past development camps, said he hasn't noticed much of a difference between the two regimes.
"It's a little bit different, but a lot of the stuff that we did in Portland is pretty similar to what they do here in Pittsburgh," he said. "I think it'll be a smooth transition. His coaching style and game plan worked well with players on the team [in Portland].
"I've recognized a few of the drills that they're doing out on the ice."
Under Johnston, the Winterhawks won the 2012-13 WHL championship and lost to the Halifax Mooseheads in the championship game of the Memorial Cup. Pouliot was named to the Memorial Cup All-Star Team that season after scoring seven points and two goals in five games.
Johnston's ability to make timely adjustments has been one of his more touted attributes since being hired. Pouliot said he is worthy of such praise.
"He really knows the game," he said. "He's been around it for a while and he makes those transitions very well. He can see what the other team is doing and come up with a plan to counter it."