While it’s far too early to get overly optimistic about Benoit Pouliot’s future with the Montreal Canadiens, it’s fair to say things have gone pretty well for the 23-year-old left winger since he was acquired from the Minnesota Wild earlier this year.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Pouliot has contributed four goals through nine games in Montreal playing on the top line alongside center Scott Gomez and right winger Brian Gionta.
Drafted fourth overall in 2005, Pouliot never lived up to expectations in Minnesota, just as the player traded for him, Guillaume Latendresse, didn’t develop the way the Habs envisioned.
If Pouliot were to become a reliable goal-scorer for the team, it would help Montreal compensate for the fact it drafted very poorly in the first round during the entire decade that recently concluded. Just as Pouliot has been a bust to this point in his career, the Canadiens selected many players who never had the impact a quality first-rounder should.
Every team can play the “what if” game when it comes to scouting, but the Canadiens’ track record over the past 10 years of first round picks isn’t good.
The highest they selected over that span was fifth overall and the club opted for Carey Price. The jury is still definitely out on that one, as the goalie has glimpsed big potential, but has yet to put it all together.
While it’s obviously too soon to say with certainty how the first-rounders drafted after Price will fair, nobody looks like a home run right now. When the Habs had a golden chance to nab a star player in the stacked 2003 draft, they took volatile Andrei Kostitsyn 10th overall with Team Canada Olympians Mike Richards, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, not to mention Team USA star Zach Parise on the board.
To their credit, the Canadiens have drafted astutely in later rounds, uncovering the likes of Tomas Plekanec and Jaroslav Halak well into the selection process.
But if they continue to be a middle-of-the-road team that’s never bad enough to acquire the kind of franchise player you can get with a top-three pick, Montreal must get better at identifying high-end talent with mid-range first round choices.
This article also appeared in the Montreal Metro newspaper.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.
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