The Pittsburgh Penguins recalled defenseman Derrick Pouliot today. And, if you saw the play that last night's third pair defensemen Scott Harrington and Robert Bortuzzo bumbled (GIF'd here by commenter bencia) it's a no-brainer of a decision.
Harrington, while promising, is 21 years old and in his first full professional season. He's also a -10 in 10 NHL games this season, which regardless of how much stock you put in the +/- stat, sure doesn't show well. Harrington isn't NHL ready right now. And, given his young age and experience, there's nothing wrong with that. He still can (and probably will) be a very big part of the team in the future once he develops more.
Pouliot, while even younger at 20, has an opportunity to help the team. Almost anyone will tell you his skating and puck-moving is at an NHL level - and we saw that in Pouliot's last NHL game against Chicago last week. Pouliot also knows coach Mike Johnston (and vice-versa) from when the two were in Portland in juniors the past couple of years.
Injuries matter too. Christian Ehrhoff's jaw bounced off the ice Wednesday in Washington. The Pens promised an update today, and gave one of their patented "no update" updates, but it seems he will need some time off to recover from a concussion, or at least the hazy concussion-like symptoms. Likewise, we know Olli Maatta ain't coming through that door, he's out for the season with shoulder surgery.
The Penguins blueline needs a difference maker for the rest of the season, and more importantly, right now. Simon Despres had a terrific game last night against Jersey and may be a fit with Kris Letang. However, the story of Despres' career has been inconsistent play. The Pens should give Despres every chance to be a top dog, but it's no guarantee that he can consistently give them that output.
With Ehrhoff's unknown timetable, this sets a perfect opportunity up for Pouliot. The Pens ought to see what the Despres-Letang pair can do, and just as importantly, see what Pouliot can do with veteran Paul Martin .
Martin has made every defenseman he's played with better:
Martin and Pouliot, in theory, would be a great combo. Martin's veteran steady, positioning and gap control to go along with Pouliot's raw skill and exuberance. Martin can push almost anyone he plays with to be a 50%+ Corsi player, so it stands to reason he would be the best option to pair with Pouliot.
Then, the third pair can be shielded with Rob Scuderi and possibly Bortuzzo. That pairing, while not world beaters, would still have a fighting chance.
When Ehrhoff is ready to return, ideally if the Despres-Letang, Pouliot-Martin pairs are clicking, Ehrhoff would slide in with Scuderi for the playoff run. This would give the Penguins 3 balanced and solid defense pairs for the first time since the 2009 playoffs, when Gonchar-Orpik, Scuderi-Gill and Eaton-Letang all played at least 18 minutes and no more than 23 minutes per game. The name of the game in the NHL playoffs is depth and balance, which Pittsburgh would have.
It's a gamble, because there's no way to know if Pouliot can perform. Or if Despres can be consistent. Or even if the previously oft-injured Martin and Letang can stay healthy. But in a salary cap world every team takes risks. If Pouliot isn't quite ready yet, the Pens have to find that out now and possibly try to make a trade or bump Ehrhoff back up and use Bortuzzo again as a top-6 guy. If that's the worst case scenario, it's still not bad.
Pouliot is skilled. Despres has experience. Go with them. Let's see if they can add to the puzzle. The Pens have relied far too long on band-aids like Mark Eaton and Douglas Murray. That didn't work and can't happen any longer. There are talented young options. There is plenty of time left in the regular season. Put them in a position to succeed by pairing them with the best defensemen on the team (Letang and Martin) and let's see what they can do.
Thanks to injuries to Maatta and Ehrhoff, and ineffectiveness by Harrington and Bortuzzo, there's really no other choice. That said, there's plenty of worse possibilities. The Pens would be wise to see if Pouliot and Despres can be big factors this season. The future is now, and it's time to embrace it.