Derrick Pouliot could start paying dividends for fantasy owners as early as this season.

In this edition of The Journey, we will look at the fantasy potential of Pittsburgh Penguins defensive prospect Derrick Pouliot. 

Derrick Pouliot started his path to the NHL playing for his hometown Weyburn Wings of the Saskatchewan Bantam AA Hockey League. A highly regarded prospect from a young age, Pouliot was drafted first overall in 2009 by the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League’s Bantam Draft. With Portland, Pouliot had an immensely successful four year career. In his time with the Winterhawks, Pouliot put up 205 points in 247 regular season games, and added an additional 73 points in his 85 postseason games.

During the summer after a disappointing loss to Philadelphia in the first round of the 2011-12 playoffs, the Penguins traded Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and the 8th overall selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. With that first round pick, the Pens selected Pouliot, who came in to the draft rated as the 12th ranked North American skater by Central Scouting.

Following a successful 2012-13 campaign, Portland’s trio of Seth Jones, Troy Rutkowski, and Tyler Wotherspoon moved on to professional hockey leaving Pouliot to be the leader of the Winterhawks defensive group in 2013-14. He responded with the best season of his career, posting 70 points in 58 games and be was named the CHL’s Defenseman of the Year. He skated with Canada’s World Junior Championship team, leading the the tournament in assists by a defenseman. Unfortunately, he was unable to lead the Winterhawks to a second successive WHL Championship, with Portland falling in game seven of the WHL Finals to the Edmonton Oil Kings.

The young defenseman began the 2014-15 season on injured reserve, missing traning camp after off-season shoulder surgery. Finally stepping on the ice for the first time in early November, Pouliot put up 20 points in his first 23 AHL contests for Wilkes-Barre Scranton. His play earned himself a call-up to the NHL mid-December, scoring in his NHL debut with an impressive wrist shot against Florida’s Roberto Luongo. Pouliot would eventually shipped back and forth between the NHL and AHL four times before an injury ended his season.

Overall, there were many flashes of potential in Pouliot’s first stint in the NHL. Playing in 34 games, the 21 year old scored twice and added five assists, playing in just over 17 minutes per game. He was used often on the power-play, averaging 2:30 a night and gathering four of his seven points with the man-advantage. Over the last couple seasons, the Pittsburgh defense corps has been in a state of flux. Pouliot will be a cornerstone for the future as the Penguins look to replace some of their aging veterans, as well as players lost via trade and free agency.

From a scouting perspective, Pouliot is a special talent in transition and in the offensive zone. Although slightly undersized at 6’0”, he is solidly built at 205 pounds which makes him an extremely difficult player to knock off the puck. Skating is one of Pouliot’s best attributes, and it allows him to push the pace of play from the back-end. He is constantly looking to transition the puck quickly and takes every opportunity to join the rush and help out on the offensive end of the ice. Like most 21 year-old defensive prospects, he does have some work to do in his own end learning the defensive zone, but he has the base to improve.

Fantasy Potential: Pouliot has all the tools to become an offensive force in the NHL. He will help fantasy owners in many categories, both at even strength and on the power-play.

Dobber Prospect Rank:  2nd ranked defensive prospect in DobberHockey’s Top 215

Fantasy Outlook: A

Pros: Skating Ability, Power-Play QB, Aggressiveness

Cons: Size, Defensive-Zone Coverage

Anticipated NHL Arrival: After a third of a season spent at the NHL level in 2014-15, it appeared a lock that Pouliot would start this year in the NHL. A poor preseason on the defensive side has put making the team in doubt. However, I expect the young blueliner to spend more time in Pittsburgh than in Wilkes-Barre Scranton.

Give Kevin a follow @kleblanchockey for NHL prospect talk and happenings.