The deadline to make qualifying offers to restricted free agents is still more than six weeks away, but the Vancouver Canucks have given one of their impending RFA’s an early heads up. Sportsnet’s Rick Dhaliwal reports that the team has informed defenseman Derrick Pouliot and his representation that they will not qualify him this off-season. As a result, Pouliot will now be an unrestricted free agent this summer, free to sign with any team he likes.
This move is both surprising and unsurprising all at once. On one hand, Pouliot’s name is still associated with youth and upside. On the other, he has never lived up to his expectations and that “youth and upside” may have very well passed him by. The 25-year-old was the 8th overall pick in 2012 by the Pittsburgh Penguins and dominated the junior level with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks before turning pro. In his first two pro seasons, Pouliot split his time between playing for the Penguins and putting up major numbers with their AHL affiliate and looked to be on the verge of a breakout in Pittsburgh. Instead, the 2016-17 season was a major disappointment; Pouliot was held scoreless in just 11 NHL games and his production dropped off in the minors as well. The Penguins dealt him to the Canucks that off-season in exchange for a mere fourth-round pick and Andrey Pedan, who never played a game in Pittsburgh and has since bolted for the KHL. Pouliot was handed a starting role in Vanouver last year and responded with a strong campaign. He set career highs across the board, recording 22 points in 71 games and playing second-pair minutes. He even showed he could be an adept shot blocker, knocking down 118 shots despite never previously displaying any ability in that area. However, just like in Pittsburgh, when Pouliot seemed primed to take the next step, it was instead a step backward. This year, he played in only 62 games, registered only 12 points, and saw his ice time and defensive responsibility cut back.
Likely contributing to the decision to move on from Pouliot is also the influx of young talent on the blue line in the Canucks’ system. With Pouliot stalling in his development, the team probably figured they would be better off using the roster space elsewhere. Heading into 2019-20, the Canucks will have ample competition for jobs even without Pouliot. Calder hopeful Quinn Hughes will lead a young unit that could include fellow top pick Olli Juolevi, undrafted free agents Mitch Eliot, Brogan Rafferty, and Josh Teves, mainstays Troy Stecher, Chris Tanev, Ben Hutton, and Alex Biega, and AHL standouts Ashton Sautner and Guillaume Brisebois, and that’s not even including unrestricted free agents Alexander Edler and Luke Schenn, both of whom would like to re-sign. There’s too many cooks in the kitchen as there is, so it makes sense that the Canucks have decided to move on from a player they feel was given a fair shot and didn’t make the most of it.
Pouliot isn’t in danger of being dismissed by every other NHL team though. On a Vancouver club that was not very good during his tenure, Pouliot still put up respectable offensive numbers and showed more of his defensive game than he did in Pittsburgh. Still a high-end skater who is only 25, it seems likely that there will be plenty of teams lining up this summer to give Pouliot another chance. This may be the last time that his name value helps him out however, especially after a down year, so look for Pouliot to choose a team where there is both a clear path to ice time, but also enough protection that he can continue to grow and round out his game without being overexposed.