- photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club
"He has come in and been better than I thought he was."
That's saying something when those words came out of the mouth of Edmonton head coach Dallas Eakins. They were uttered in favour of Benoit Pouliot. With all the training camp talk about second-line centre, starting goalie and all the other training camp battles, Pouliot has slipped under the radar a little bit. Hard to imagine that would happen with the biggest off-season signing by the Oilers.
July 1st has become a crazy day in the world of hockey. Canada's birthday is our summertime version of Christmas. You wake up in the morning and you're not sure what you might find under the unrestricted free agency tree. This off-season the Oilers bought a lot of gifts. There was Mark Fayne and Keith Aulie, but none of the gifts was for longer or for money than Pouliot. Five years and a 20 million dollar commitment for a player who has everything Edmonton needs. Size check 6'3-193 pounds. Speed check. Pouliot can skate very well. Experience check. He just turned 28. Has a shade less of 400 NHL games and not to mention has 54 playoff games and a run with New York to the Stanley Cup on his resume.
Jordan Eberle mentioned it the first day of camp that he noticed the team was bigger. Taylor Hall spoke of how he and Jordan aren't going to get any taller and can only get so much bigger. As Hall continued to tell me that he just felt the right mix to success was a little off, that the Oilers needed some height and weight behind them. That's why Fayne and Aulie were brought in. Same thing goes for Teddy Purcell, but it's Pouliot that could and most likely should turn out to be the move that makes the biggest difference. It's no secret that Edmonton has loads of skill from their top six but they needed, as Hall said, to mix it up with some Alberta-signed beef. In the case of Pouliot, he won't be steam rolling everyone he sees but he's just the perfect combination of what Craig MacTavish has often said was on his wish list.
It's a little hard to believe that Pouliot is now starting life with his sixth NHL team. Looking a little deeper into his hockey resume, he really hasn't been given a long look anywhere he's been. After he was chosen fourth overall in 2005, the winger split his time with Minnesota and their AHL affiliate in Houston. He played 65 games with the Wild, 118 more games with Montreal, 74 with Boston, 34 with Tampa and 80 with the NY Rangers. This may look like a red flag but it looks more to me like a young player with high expectations because of his draft position who has just taken some extra time to close in on his potential. The Oilers, in my mind, are hopping on at just the right time in Pouliot's career. He now has financial and destination stability. It will help Pouliot to continue to discover his game.
Along with being better than he expected, Pouliot has been working very hard at camp. With the deal he signed just over three months ago that's a great sign of his commitment to being better and helping the Oilers achieve their team goals. Benoit Pouliot has found a place he can call home and the Oilers have a player who has a Pouliot to offer.