It's an important week of training camp for the Pittsburgh Penguins. For many months, keyboard GMs on Pensburgh have had Derrick Pouliot inserted as an important part of the NHL defensive unit. After Pouliot's camp, that might have been too soon.
Pouliot performed poorly in Saturday night's 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, something Pouliot even admitted as much after the game.
"I think there’s a little room for improvement on the defensive side," he said. "Just sharpening things up. Making some better reads. That kind of thing."
Namely this, one of three goals against on Saturday that Pouliot was on the ice for:
That's simply unacceptable at any level.
The surprising bit to me was just how much Johnston condemned Pouliot's play after the game when he was asked if Pouliot still had anything to prove during training camp.
"For sure he does," said Johnston. "He’s not a regular NHL player. He’s a guy who has played games."
Pouliot and Johnston have been together since Pouliot debuted with the WHL Portland Winterhawks in 2010. If Mike Johnston knows any player that he's coached in the past 5 years, surely it would be Pouliot.
The strange thing is, before the exhibition games, Pouliot was praised up and down the reports for his work in practices. Then came Thursday night's 6-1 loss to Detroit (Pouliot on ice for 2 goals against, and did not play well, much like the rest of the team) and Saturday's debacle.
Now the question becomes: how does Pouliot respond. Is he able to bounce back? The Pens have 4 more preseason games, all this week on Mon-Tues-Wed and Friday. Thanks to that rushed schedule, it's likely Pouliot will have at least another chance or two to show that he is closer to being an NHL player.
Progress, especially for defensemen, isn't a straight and steady line. Pouliot is still 21 years old and beginning his second professional season. It will certainly be a disappointment if he isn't able to make the NHL team out of training camp again, but it's still no certainty that's the course he's on.
One thing is for sure though, just because his old Junior coach is now the NHL coach, Pouliot doesn't have the guarantee of breaking camp with the NHL team. He's going to have to improve his play and prove that he belongs to be in Pittsburgh's lineup on opening night. Watching how he responds in this final week of training camp will be one of the most intriguing storylines for Pens fans.