With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the mend, there will likely have to be a new target for fans and media type to critique. No need for rationale or evidence. Just pick someone. Anyone.
Now I have a lot of respect for guys like Matheson, so I'm not going to pile on too much here. Fact is, Jonathan Willis published an insightful piece on Pouliot's productivity just a few days ago. The key takeaway:
The evidence here could not be more clear. Pouliot is, conservatively, an excellent second-line player. That he's big, fast and physical on an Oilers team which tends to lack all three of those qualities is just gravy. He's a bargain at $4.0 million per season, and is somewhere near the bottom on any list of players that Edmonton should consider trading. (Source: OilersNation)
I thought I'd take it a few steps further to highlight not only his productivity, but also how he compares to other left-wingers this season at even-strength and him impact on linemates.
First up, here are Pouliot's underlying stats, including points, scoring rates and metrics relative to teammates. The first thing to note is that his overall production is down slightly this season compared to seasons prior. Some of his metrics relative to teammates are in the negatives this season, which isn't consistent with the type of numbers he has posted in the past. He's still a positive player when it comes to possession and goal scoring, but has been on the ice for a lot of shots and scoring chances against this season compared to last. Overall though, we see a player who has consistently produced and been a positive influence on his teams.
With 16 points this season at even-strength, he's currently tied with Wayne Simmonds, Brad Marchand, James van Riemsdyk and Henrik Zetterberg. His 1.77 points per 60 is better than all four of these players, placing him 36th in the league among left wingers who have played over 500 minutes at even-strength this season.
Next, a HERO chart courtesy of Own the Puck, which displays a players individual production and impact on possession over a three year period. Creator Domenic Galamini, who currently works as an analytics consultant for the Hamilton Bulldogs of the OHL, has also derived baselines to classify players as first, second, third or fourth line players. The data is derived from Puckalytics, with a full glossary of the terms available.
Based on this graph, we see that Pouliot has played fewer minutes, but produces well and has a strong impact on his team's possession. He generates and suppresses shots at a first line level, with his team often doing better when it comes to the proportion of shot attempts when he's on the ice. Again, this is for the past three seasons, so we have enough data to conclude that Pouliot is more than a third line player.
Finally, I looked at how Pouliot's most common linemates over the past two seasons did possession wise with him and without him (Source: Hockey Analysis). The five players listed below from most minutes played with Pouliot to least played at least 100 minutes at even-strength with Pouliot. Again, we see the positive impact Pouliot has had on some very talented players and how valuable he is as a top six forward.
I was honestly concerned at the start of the year that fans and media would try to make Pouliot expendable with size and grit in some form being the replacement. And with Zack Kassian's arrival in late December, and with the growing demand for McDavid to have some form of protection on his line, I started to see the criticism for Pouliot grow. Based on his on-ice performance, it would be completely ridiculous for the Oilers to rid themselves of a talented and experienced player like Pouliot. If fans really do want to see someone like Kassian remain on the team, I'd advise that they instead look down the depth chart at a winger who has not only been an absolute drag on the team when it comes to goals and shot attempts, but someone that'll be pulling $2.5 million next season. Looking at you Korpse.