Derrick Pouliot’s reputation preceded him before he first joined the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks as a 15-year-old back in early 2010, as the defenseman had been taken first overall in the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft.
“That’s a big thing on our team. He was pretty special coming in,” Winterhawks teammate and fellow Penguins prospect Joe Morrow said with a laugh.
“He doesn’t seem like it, but everybody knows he’s pretty good. We called him ‘First Overall’ as a nickname for a while, but I don’t think he liked it very much. It fell apart pretty fast.”
That’s because Pouliot isn’t an arrogant teenager with a big ego. He’s a quiet, reserved 18-year-old from a small town in Saskatchewan who just happens to be extraordinarily talented at playing hockey.
The Penguins chose the defenseman with the No. 8 overall selection (acquired from Carolina as part of a draft day trade) in the 2012 NHL Draft here in Pittsburgh on June 22, and are excited about how the young prospect fits with the organization’s philosophies.
“Forwards are going to love playing with him,” Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. “Pouliot is going to be that smooth, Brian Campbell-type of skater that can get you out of your end, be quick on our retrievals and put the puck on our forward's sticks.”
Pouliot named his skating, vision and puck movement as his strengths, adding that after a week of seeing the Penguins’ on-ice style of play at this year’s prospect development camp, he feels that he’s going to fit right in.
“It makes a lot of sense,” he said. “I think it complements how I play quite well. I’m more of an offensive-minded defenseman and like to get up into the play, move the puck, stuff like that. I like it a lot.”
The Winterhawks advanced all the way to the league final for the second-straight season before falling in seven games to the Edmonton Oil Kings, and Pouliot finished the postseason tied with Morrow for the most points among WHL blueliners with 17 points (3G-14A) in 22 games.
Pouliot, who played alongside Morrow on Portland’s first power-play unit this past year, ranked second among Winterhawks defensemen behind Morrow with 59 points (11G-48A) in 72 regular-season games.
But despite his impressive numbers, Pouliot said he got stronger in his own end this past season.
“I didn’t start out on the PK, but as the season went on I gradually got more time there,” he said. “I played first PP this year, so still more of an offensive role, but I jumped into a defensive role and hopefully I can do that again this year.”
After being educated all of last week on what it takes to be a Pittsburgh Penguin, Pouliot – who roomed with Simon Despres at camp – knows he has a lot of work to do this summer heading into the 2012-13 campaign, starting with making his 5-foot-11, 195-pound frame more powerful.
“I want to have good workouts this summer and come into camp ready and hopefully push for a spot on the team here,” he said. “If I need to go back to juniors for another year I’ll be happy to do that and develop. World Juniors is high on my priority list. If I go back to juniors I want to have a good first half of the season, get an invite to the December camp and hopefully make that team.”