Pittsburgh Penguins’ defensive prospect Derrick Pouliot has enjoyed a number of successes over his career, but it’s a pair of disappointments that are fuelling the fire of what he hopes will be a dynamic 2013-14 season.
The 5’11” defenseman was a member of the Portland Winterhawks squad that lost to the Halifax Mooseheads in the Memorial Cup final last year. He was also one of the first cuts from Team Canada’s 2013 World Junior Championship roster in December.
“It’s definitely a motivating thing,” he said. “We’d been in the final of the WHL three years in a row and then made it to the Memorial Cup final and lost. You want to win that, it’s the ultimate goal for junior — we were that close, so it definitely motivates you.
“Last year I was at the December camp and I got cut. It was pretty disappointing and I definitely don’t want that to happen again. When December rolls around, I want to be on that team.”
Individually, Pouliot had a solid season, despite dealing with a lingering high-ankle sprain. He accounted for 20 points in 21 games during the playoffs, after performing at a point-per-game pace during the regular season (nine goals, 45 points in 44 games). After a disappointing 6-4 loss in the Memorial Cup finale, Pouliot needed some time to decompress.
“I took a little time off before getting back into things,” he said. “Then I went to the Penguins’ development camp, and I had the World Junior camp in August. I worked out a lot this summer.”
His first stop? A trip back home to Weyburn, SK. With a population of around 11,000, it’s safe to say most people in the community know who Pouliot is. And he said he’s very appreciative of their support.
“I get a lot of people coming up to me saying, ‘Congrats,’ and ‘Good job.’” he said. “Same with my parents, everyone comes up to them and wishes them good luck. It’s great to have the community support you like that.”
He’s also grown comfortable living in Portland, OR, a city roughly 50 times larger than his hometown. “At first it was [a challenge], but four years in now you get kind of used to it,” he said. “I love it there, it’s a beautiful city, great fans — the fan base is coming back. It took a while to get used to, but I love it now.”
As a 19-year-old, Pouliot will have to return to his WHL club should he not crack the Penguins’ roster. While obviously he has his sights set on Pittsburgh, he has some fall-back goals in mind for Portland.
“This year, if I’m back in Portland, I want to be a leader on that team,” he said. “It will be my fourth year and I think we’ll still have a pretty good team there.
“My goal, and the team’s goal, is to make the Memorial Cup and be a dominant force in the league like we have for the past few years.”
In addition, he wants to spend his holidays this year in Malmo, Sweden.
“It’s a huge honour. You’re representing your country in front of the whole world,” he said. “Everyone’s watching that tournament in [Canada] — it’s a huge tournament. For guys my age, it’s a huge honour and you grow up dreaming about playing in it.”
Spending part of August with Team Canada and the early part of September at the Toronto Maple Leafs-sponsored rookie camp in London, ON has given him a solid head start on the upcoming main camp.
“It’s a higher level of play — guys are bigger and stronger, so I hope it helps prepare me for the NHL training camp,” he said. “The level is going to be even higher there, so that’s my hope here is that I can kind of get my feet wet and be ready for the next step.”
Pouliot said he’s taking notes at this tournament and enjoying the opportunity to learn from his peers — including those who have played in the pro ranks.
“I need to improve my overall defensive game and being harder on guys,” he said. “It’s the little everyday habits — the stuff that’s going to make you a pro. You see the pro guys doing things and you know those are the habits you’re going to have to integrate into your life.
“These guys are here for a reason, so you have to be that much better and that much more ready to go.”
Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard