Penguins minor league notebook: Pouliot impresses early in season
WILKES-BARRE — In the first 15 seasons after the Penguins planted their AHL farm club in Wilkes-Barre in 1999, 18 defensemen hit double digits in points as rookies.
Derrick Pouliot did it in 10 games.
The eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Pouliot has been as advertised in his first four weeks as a pro. A wizard on the power play and a puck-rushing difference-maker at even strength, Pouliot didn’t make his season debut until Oct. 21 as he wrapped up recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. He promptly put together a seven-game point streak, accruing two goals and eight assists in his first 10 games.
“It’s only been a few games, but you can see his reads, his poise, his understanding of what he can do and can’t do has improved, and it’s only going to improve more,” Baby Pens coach John Hynes said.
An agile if not blindingly fast skater, Pouliot looks like the perfect fit for coach Mike Johnston’s system, which is not a coincidence. Pouliot played his junior hockey for Johnston with Portland of the Western Hockey League.
“He likes his defense to be active,” Pouliot said. “That’s a good thing for me. I like to help create offense and really get involved that way.”
Before Pouliot and Johnston are reunited, Pouliot has to polish some rough spots in the defensive zone.
At 6-foot, 194 pounds, he needs to use technique rather than size to defend in one-on-one situations. Also, he’s prone to the occasional turnover.
“He’s got to get better defensively,” Hynes said.
This year’s crop of rookie forwards in Wilkes-Barre is the deepest and most promising in years. First-year players have scored 20 of the team’s first 46 goals.
Notre Dame graduate Bryan Rust has been a revelation, using his speed and tenacity to get to the net. Coming into this weekend, he led all AHL rookies with seven goals.
Jean-Sebastien Dea and Conor Sheary are slick, undersized scorers. Scott Wilson has a nice combination of puck skills and physicality. Josh Archibald is fast and feisty on the forecheck.
“I think we push each other every day, even in practice,” Wilson said.
Scoring winger Anton Zlobin, a sixth-round draft pick in 2012 who was a breakout playoff performer for the Baby Pens last year, is having a miserable start to his second pro season.
In the team’s first 10 games, Zlobin had no points and was a healthy scratch four times. On Oct. 31, he suffered an upper-body injury on a hit into the corner boards at Norfolk and has yet to return.
Among the Penguins prospects who have yet to turn pro, Jeff Taylor has turned the most heads in the early part of the season.
A seventh-round pick in last June’s draft, Taylor is a 6-foot, 180-pound sophomore for the defending NCAA champion at Union College. He leads college defensemen in scoring with 13 points in 12 games.
Jonathan Bombulie has covered the Baby Pens for the Citizens’ Voice in Wilkes-Barre since the team’s inception in 1999. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.