Meetings of the Marc Pouliot fan club, of late, have been lonely ones. The few of us remaining faithful gather around the hearth, drain a glass of sherry, and look back fondly upon the golden days. Remembering the time of yore, when trading down from Zach Parise to Pouliot and a second-rounder that became Jean-Francois Jacques was a vaguely defensible decision. In his draft year, Pouliot notched 73 points in 65 games with the pre-Crosby Rimouski Oceanic, leading the team in scoring by a handy thirty-three points and only being held back from even greater heights by an errant Dion Phaneuf elbow that scrambled Pouliot's eggs like a new cook at Smitty's. He was also -23, but on the 2002-03 Rimouski Oceanic that was pretty good! Seriously! That team, lest we forget, was 11-58-3.
Oh, but that Phaneuf thing. A nasty hit and probably a clean hit: the only clean hit Dion Phaneuf threw in his career, actually, when Phaneuf and Pouliot collided in the CHL Top Prospects game. In hindsight, Phaneuf turning Pouliot to tapioca that easily probably should have been a sign. But, flushed with excitement, we threw caution to the wind like it were prom night.
It didn't get much better for young Marc-Antoine, as we called him in those days. Oh, I mean, he played with Sidney Crosby and finished runner-up for the 2005 Memorial Cup. That was pretty good, I guess. But the injuries - heavens, the injuries.
We forget how many games Pouliot has played, sometimes. His first professional season, Marc Pouliot got in 73 combined professional games. The next year, it was 90. The year after, 79. He wasn't spending his nights in traction, by any means, but there was always some nagging thing with him that was keeping him from being one hundred percent, that was just this close to being completely healed and yet never was. There were preposterous injuries at the worst times, usually just as he was putting it together.
His first year, Pouliot played only eight regular season games, scored only one goal, but looked exceptional in a fourth-line role after the trade of Marty Reasoner to Boston. Then he got mononucleosis and missed the end of the year as well as the entire playoff run. Mononucleosis! The Oilers were so short on qualified centres that 71-year-old Rem Murray played twenty-four playoff games and Marc Pouliot was out with mono-fucking-nucleosis! You're telling me he couldn't have taken the load off of Brad Winchester (ten games, one admittedly awesome goal, and one squid) or Todd Harvey (ten games, take away everything awesome the Rifle did) or even Georges Laraque (fifteen games and I bet you forgot because Big Georges was completely invisible)? You're telling me things maybe don't turn out a little bit different for everyone?
An older, wiser Pouliot recovered from his mono to be the best player in his limited apperances with the 2006-07 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, a strong team shared with the Pittsburgh Penguins which ran a video game good centre ice combination of Pouliot, Kyle Brodziak, Ryan Stone, Rob Schremp, and Tyler Kennedy. Pouliot also played forty-six games in Edmonton and didn't look so good: eleven points from the fourth line, usually played out of position on the wing, only -2 on a Ryan Smyth Death March team without a lot of plusses, and an indignant response to Craig MacTavish's suggestion that maybe, just maybe, the defensively sound and offensively challenged Pouliot would be better off thinking of himself as Guy Carbonneau than Guy Lafleur.
So here we are. 2010. Since 2006-07, Pouliot has played 101 NHL games and 59 AHL games. He has scored 31 NHL points and 53 AHL points. One of those numbers is fantastic and the other one isn't impressing anybody. He's also been concussed a couple of times and missed most of this season with something called "pubitis". And right now you're picking up your monitor and shaking it and shouting that how, how, in God's name can a china statue like this possibly be the Oilers' #8 prospect?
Well, let me put it absolutely simple. What Pouliot does well is something almost no other Oilers forward can do. He outscores. He gets on the ice against another team's player and sometimes he scores and sometimes they score but, compared to his teammates, the former happens more than the latter. He also makes approximately minimum wage, is a restricted free agent at the end of the year, is a remarkably hard worker, and is still younger than you probably remember.
Let us take, for example, Gabe Desjardins and his statistical witchcraft. Go to http://www.behindthenet.ca and browse for a bit and you'll see a statistic named, rather obtusely, "Rating". What "Rating" is is the difference between a team's +/- per sixty minutes when a given player is off the ice and a team's +/- per sixty minutes when a given player is on the ice: basically, the difference the guy makes from what his team usually achieves.
Among Oilers to play double-digit games this year, the leader in "Rating" on the Oilers is precisely who you'd expect, Ales Hemsky with a +2.51. No prizes for guessing tail-end Charlie: Shawn Horcoff, -1.91. Ethan Moreau and Jason Strudwick are both well on the bad end of the ledger, guys like Ryan Stone and Sam Gagner are to the good. You pretty much get the results you'd expect.
Oh. I neglected to finish naming the Oilers' leaders in "Rating". Second is Dustin Penner, which isn't news to you I'm sure. Third is Marc Pouliot, which probably is. Marc Pouliot is +1.80. Lubomir Visnovsky is +1.00. Gilbert Brule is +0.66. Even the great Zach Stortini is only +1.06.
He's facing decent opposition, as teams try to get their best out against a line they perceive as weak: Pouliot's QUALCOMP is third among Oiler forwards behind Fernando Pisani and Horcoff. His teammates aren't bad (sixth among forwards) but they're not great either. His PDO of 987 sucks in general terms, although it's pretty average on the Oilers. He's not shooting the lights out but considering the team he's on and the fact that he had some disease unknown to man ravaging his crotch for half the season, he's not doing bad.
Now, I do have to ask you guys to remember something. These top 25 under 25 are all relative. When I say Marc Pouliot is the fifth-best prospect in the Oilers' system, that's not necessarily "Marc Pouliot is great" so much as "the guys behind him aren't necessarily all that good". Pouliot has all kinds of question marks about him. Health, obviously. Can he continue to improve? Can he develop his faceoff ability (50.4% this year is by no means bad and for an Oiler it's terrific, but in the wide world of the NHL it won't impress anybody)?
But there are also a lot fewer questions about him than, say, Patrick O'Sullivan or even Andrew Cogliano. Important questions, too, like "can he get results on a crappy team with crappy linemates?" and "is he capable of playing as an NHL forward without embarrassing himself no matter the situation?" and "if he had to win a faceoff and the fate of the world was at stake, would you try to max out your credit cards before the puck dropped?" There's a lot to be said for knowing what you're getting, and knowing that the worst case scenario is fifteen minutes of inoffensive, more-or-less even hockey and a fifty-fifty shot at every draw, because that's what he's already doing even in the midst of the Fall for Hall.
Marc Pouliot isn't a spectacular pick. But he's a safe one. Cheer up, buddy. There's really nothing wrong with being Guy Carbonneau.