Improved defensive play has some in the Penguins organization believing that 2012 1st round pick Derrick Pouliot, the 8th overall pick, is likely to emerge as a strong candidate for regular NHL action next season, sources say.
Pouliot made a strong impression on the Penguins coaching staff in training camp with his top end offensive skills but the Penguins and scouts outside the organization all seem to be in agreement that Pouliot is evolving into a more complete player.
That’s what scouts coming out of the recent SuperSeries are telling me about Pouliot and if paired with a defensive minded defenseman at the NHL level, the Penguins could have two 20 year old defensemen in the lineup next season in Pouliot and Olli Maatta who has emerged as a regular already at age 19.
Pouliot has 7 goals, 25 points and a +13 rating in 24 games for Portland of the WHL. The Penguins are anticipating Pouliot to have a big role for Team Canada in the World Juniors, something the Penguins feel is going to be huge for his development.
Tough decisions loom for the Penguins brass as Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Deryk Engelland are free agents at seasons end, while top-5 prospects Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin project to also be pushing hard for NHL time next season.
Meanwhile, Simon Despres will be waiver eligible for the first time in his career next season. The Penguins hands will be forced on Despres to make him a regular or trade him for a forward as he would never clear waivers.
1. D Olli Maatta / Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL) | 28 GP – 1 Goal – 4 Assists – 5 Points – +4
2. D Derrick Pouliot / Portland (WHL) | 24 GP – 7 Goals – 18 Assists – 25 Points – +13 (5 PPG)
3. D Scott Harrington / WBS-Scranton | 21 GP – 2 Goals – 6 Assists – 8 Points – +5

4. D Brian Dumoulin / WBS-Scranton | 20 GP – 1 Goal – 5 Assists – 6 Points – even rating
5. G Tristan Jarry / Edmonton (WHL) | 16-7-1, 1.98 GAA, .923 save percentage