Derrick Pouliot : NHL Draft Prospect

It isn’t easy to stand out offensively on a team that led the Western Hockey League in goals by a whopping 18 and boasts two 2011 first-round draft picks, but Derrick Pouliot of the Portland Winterhawks proved to be a unique prospect even as a 16-year-old rookie.

The 5-foot-11, 187-pound Pouliot notched 30 points (five goals, 25 assists) in his first WHL season and exploded for 59 (11 goals, 48 assists) this year, good for fourth in the league in scoring amongst defensemen and forcing every NHL team to take notice.

“This year I’ve had a lot more confidence,” Pouliot says.“I’ve been able to step into a bigger role on this team, maybe become a bit more of a leader.I’ve been sharpening up things in my game every day.Last year I learned what it took to play in this league and this year I was a little more prepared for it.”

Pouliot’s offensive ability has never been in question, but his defensive zone play has drawn criticism in the past.

Credit the Weyburn, Saskatchewan native for being well aware of his weaknesses, for Pouliot has spent his sophomore campaign paying close attention to his defensive play while still racking up points by the bundle.

“I know you have to be able to play in both ends of the rink,” Pouliot says.“It’s better this year, I’ve worked on finishing guys in the corners, closing on guys quick, being more intense, having more energy out there, making sure that I don’t give up any scoring chances against.I think I’ve improved a lot this year with that…I want that to be as good as my offensive game.”

Pouliot’s improved defense is the primary reason he’s held in such high regard by Hockey Prospect and why his draft stock has been on the rise.

“It’s always nice to see a player improve any area of their game,” HP’s Mark Edwards says.“Derrick has done a good job improving his defensive game which only helps his cause as the draft approaches.”

Pouliot drew rave reviews for his play in the CHL Top Prospects Game and has another opportunity to impress NHL scouts during the Winterhawks’ playoff run.Though Portland boasts such high scoring prospects as Sven Bartschi and Ty Rattie, Pouliot and Joe Morrow lead a potent two-way rearguard that was instrumental in propelling the Winterhawks to a third-place finish in the WHL’s Western Conference and may be the key to Portland’s playoff hopes.

The recent firsthand draft-year experience of Bartschi, Rattie and Morrow has had a calming influence on Pouliot, who has the advantage of knowledgeable predecessors over many of his competitors.

“Seeing those guys and asking them about it kind of prepares you for what you might go through,” Pouliot says.“I kind of know what to expect and it’s exciting, it’s exciting to hear them talk about it and it’s even more exciting to go through it.”

Even in a draft loaded with capable defenders, few possess the pure offensive talent of Pouliot.He already has a reputation for being a dynamic power play quarterback, strong skater and excellent puck mover and if his defensive game continues to improve, he could end up being the best of the bunch.