The Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks are surging, and Penguins prospect Derrick Pouliot
has been an instrumental part of that success.
The Winterhawks extended their win streak to nine straight games on Tuesday with a 5-1 victory over Red Deer, with defenseman Pouliot scoring a goal and two assists in the contest.
Pouliot now has 18 points (5G-13A) in 17 games for Portland, who’s first in the U.S. Division with a 13-3-1 record. And what’s been driving Pouliot's strong start is the confidence he’s gained from from his time in Pittsburgh this summer for the draft and development camp, and his expanded role with the Winterhawks in his third season with the club.
“Just confidence,” Pouliot said of what’s been behind his early success. “I think playing a key role on the ice in all situations and just being confident in my abilities. I’m more of an offensive player. That’s part of my game and that’s something that I want to do. It’s kind of pushing me to be my best every game and the points are coming.”
The Penguins drafted Pouliot, 18, eighth overall in Pittsburgh back in June, and he returned to the city to attend prospect development camp at the NHL club’s home, CONSOL Energy Center, a few weeks after. It’s impossible to go through those experiences and not come out of them being motivated for the future.
“Pittsburgh gave me some things to work on and I kind of already knew some stuff I had to work on to improve,” he said. “It does build your confidence. You reminisce a little bit. It was an amazing experience and one I’m never going to forget."
Pouliot has taken the “foundation keys” the Penguins gave him back to Portland with him this fall, where he’s embracing the role of “older guy” on a team full of younger players – especially with the departure of fellow Penguins prospect Joe Morrow to the pros.
“Joe was a good player and a key player for us,” Pouliot said. “Now that he’s gone, I’m looking to fill that role and step into a big part on the team. It definitely gives me a little bit more of an opportunity here.”
Pouliot, who helped lead Portland to the WHL Final in the past two seasons, is the leading scorer of one of the WHL’s deepest, most dynamic back ends, which includes Seth Jones, the potential No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft. And since it's still relatively early in the season, Pouliot is determined to do what it takes to continue thriving in the role he’s been given.
“I’m kind of the older guy, so there’s lots of young guys you can kind of teach a little bit and they look up to you,” Pouliot said. “(I want to) be more of a leader this year. On the ice, (I’m) definitely (getting) a bigger defensive role and playing in all of the key situations. So hopefully I can keep that up.
"I’m just focusing and moving forward now and just improving every day.”