With the dazzling array of talent the Portland Winterhawks have assembled the past couple years, it seems inconceivable the team has yet to return to its days of Western League titles and Memorial Cup challenges. But the franchise has come achingly close and in the short term can at least relish that many of its charges are on the fast road to the NHL. The latest in the category is defenseman Derrick Pouliot, who interviewed with 23 teams at the draft combine and impressed all year with his slick game.
“He really doesn’t get as much publicity as he should, playing out in Portland,” said one NHL exec. “Such a good skater. He has mobility and the ability to jump into the attack and he can play both sides of the puck. He might be the best of the group.”
That group is the coveted cohort of Dub defensemen in this year’s draft. Along with Pouliot, it includes Everett’s Ryan Murray, Red Deer’s Matt Dumba, Moose Jaw’s Morgan Rielly and Edmonton’s Griffin Reinhart, who has popped up a couple times in Pouliot’s season.
“Seeing (Pouliot) at the Top Prospects Game, he was paired with Reinhart and looked solid,” said one scout. “He needs to play with better players in Portland. The rest of his game is pretty solid. A little bit of a cranky streak, which is nice to see.”
But while Reinhart played foil to Pouliot on one big stage, he also dashed the Weyburn, Sask. product’s dreams on another when the Oil Kings tossed Portland out of the WHL final in seven games.
“It was really tough,” Pouliot said. “We had a good run in the playoffs and we were confident in our team. We thought we should have won that series, but it didn’t work out that way. Edmonton was a great team.”
If there’s any consolation, it’s that Pouliot’s Hawks will no doubt be back in the mix next year. Joining him on the blueline will be top 2013 defense prospect Seth Jones, whom Pouliot played with at some tournaments as a bantam. And with a recent lineage that includes Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Johansen and Sven Baertschi, there’s no doubt Portland will reload again. That’s been the mantra in the past couple seasons, since the GM and coaching tandem of Mike Johnston and assistant Travis Green took over. Before that, the Hawks were a shadow of the powerhouse that produced Marian Hossa, Brenden Morrow and Andrew Ference in the late 1990s.
“It’s exciting,” said Pouliot of the rebirth. “The fan base is great and with the couple good years we’ve had they’re starting to come back a bit. Portland is a really nice city.”
And Pouliot has been nice on the ice for the hipster/hippie mecca. His 59 points in 72 games placed him fourth among WHL defensemen during the regular season, while his 17 points in 22 playoff games tied fellow Hawk Joe Morrow for first overall. The six-foot, 181-pound teen (ranked 13th overall in THN’s Draft Preview) would like to improve on his defensive game and up the aggression he dished out against opponents, but with several Winterhawks D-men heading off to the pros next season, he’ll get all the responsibility he needs.
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