Pens prospect looking to expand his game

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think he was just a typical teenager. A quiet kid who likes to catch a movie or go to the bowling alley, known for occasionally stealing the conversation from friends in order to throw in a funny one-liner, and an A student.

But put Derrick Pouliot on the ice with a stick, and you can see why he was selected eighth overall by Pittsburgh in the 2012 NHL draft.

“Just how he controls the game, how he manages the puck, his vision, his instincts, his ability to jump into the play,” said Mike Johnston, Pouliot’s head coach and general manager with the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks.

“He’s got great deception and you never really know what he’s going to do and he finds people you don’t think he’s going to find. He sees people that you don’t think he can see.”

USA Hockey's Jim Johannson has had plenty of opportunities to see this 18-year-old in action.

Playing for Team Canada, Pouliot tallied two goals and an assist in five games, while helping his team capture gold at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. The Weyburn, Saskatchewan, product also played in the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.

“Another prime pro prospect that has the versatility to play all the parts of the game, but has some special abilities on the offensive side,” said Johannson, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director for hockey operation and the general manager for Team USA’s 2013 National Junior Team.

Taken with the first overall selection by the Winterhawks in the 2009 WHL bantam draft, it wasn’t long before Pouliot decided being known mainly for his offensive prowess wasn’t going to cut it.

“I still kind of am [an offensive defenseman],” said Pouliot, who had 11 goals and 48 assists last year and already has four goals and six assists through 12 games this season. “But as the past two years have gone on and especially this year, you know, I’m really focusing on my defensive game.”

As he tries to make the change into a puck-moving, two-way defenseman, Pouliot’s quick to identify who he models his game after.

“I’m trying to bring more, you know, intensity and kind of physical presence to the game like [Drew] Doughty does,” said Pouliot of the recent Stanley Cup champion with a similar 6-foot frame.

Pouliot’s game isn’t perfect just yet, though.

“Applying himself in battle situations to get the puck back, that’s probably one area where he could notch up a little bit,” Johnston said.

Whether or not he becomes a top NHL defenseman, as many have billed him, is still very much in the air, as the prospect still has time in the WHL and then most likely the AHL before potentially donning a Penguins sweater. However, one thing is for sure: Pouliot’s not taking anything for granted.

“You can never stop working ‘cause, you know, there’s that guy that’s trying to get to the same place you are that’s working just as hard if not harder, so you really have to push yourself,” Pouliout said.