by Stephen Meserve | AHL On The Beat
Derrick Pouliot, having a career year in his 10th professional season, waxes poetic about the role that he plays now for a Texas Stars team that features a bevy of rookie defensemen all looking for their shot at the next level.
After sharing an example of some sage advice about defensive coverage, he muses, “I wish somebody had told me that early on in my career.”
Pouliot now looks to be the veteran influence he would have wanted to have as a rookie.
After Texas’s Central Division crown last season, the team shifted up personnel in a big way, bringing in many rookies in all positions but especially on defense, where fully half of the roster is first-year pros. Dallas, which has stressed a draft-and-develop mindset during the Jim Nill era, knew that they needed more veteran leadership to join Alex Petrovic and shepherd the young flock.
“My agent called me on July 3 and said there was an opportunity in Dallas,” Pouliot said. “I knew the coaching staff there, playing a few games for [Dallas coach Pete DeBoer] in Vegas. Being in San Antonio for a year, I also got to play against Texas, so it was a pretty easy choice.”
The Stars offered Pouliot a two-way contract, a testament to what he’s done over the past several years. With both Vegas and San Jose, the Saskatchewan native had signed AHL deals that later turned into two-way NHL deals thanks to his solid play.
Pouliot was impressed right away coming into Dallas camp and meeting the rookies.
“There’s a lot of good young players here who are working hard, and they have good work habits. They’re pretty dialed in on being professional. These guys are so talented, so good. They’re light-years ahead of me when I started skill-wise, eating habits, workouts and everything like that.”
Pouliot, a 2012 first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins, learned quickly that he needed to be responsible on both sides of the puck to make it in the NHL.
“I wish I knew when I started playing how important playing on the other side of the puck was,” he said. “When I started, I was an offensive defenseman, and my defensive game wasn’t really developed.”
Finding a role for himself throughout the years has been about building a complete game.
“There’s guys who are better than I am offensively,” said Pouliot, noting that he wasn’t going to get power play time in Vegas with Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore on the blue line there. “You have to find something else to make yourself useful to the team.”
Rookie Christian Kyrou has been Pouliot’s most consistent partner throughout the year.
“Even just in the short amount of time that I’ve been with him, I’ve seen Kyrou make some good strides.”
With injuries and illness, however, Pouliot has played with most of the rookies at this point.
“I’m just trying to be a steady guy for them,” he said. “I’ll teach them and guide them when they’re making mistakes or things don’t go their way.”
As opposed to when he entered the league, there is so much more focus on and availability of video to aid in coaching. The ability to give teaching feedback and then follow-up with direct video evidence of how that made a difference is a huge part of the learning process for young pros today.
“Everybody was probably the best player on their junior team, or one of the best,” Pouliot said. “They did probably whatever they wanted. Sometimes it’s hard for some guys to make adjustments and play a little bit different style. At the pro level, though, these guys are very open to coaching. And now there’s so much video, and you can see everything happening. I feel the learning curve has accelerated a little bit for these guys.”
Pouliot’s year hasn’t all been teaching. He’s also pushing the pace on points and on track for a career high, already racking up five goals and 19 assists. He shrugs it off a bit, also noting the success of the Texas power play, which has earned him 11 of those assists.
“A lot of offense is established from just playing good defense, having a tight gap and breaking the puck out quickly so you’re not spending time in your own zone. I look at some of the points that I’ve got this year. It just comes from simple plays. If you make the simple play 10 times in a row, it’s more effective than trying to make that one home run. And that’s exactly what I would have told myself 10 years ago.
“I mean, I don’t know if I would have listened…”
Stephen Meserve is the editor of 100 Degree Hockey, which has covered the Texas Stars since their inaugural season.