Editor’s note: Over the next few weeks, NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will be taking an in-depth look at one Bruins player each day, analyzing their performance last season and their outlook heading into the 2011-12 campaign.
The Bruins didn't make a lot of moves this offseason, but one addition raised a few eyebrows. Boston turned to an unexpected source to fill a hole on its front lines, signing free agent forward Benoit Pouliot away from archrival Montreal. Pouliot will get a chance to replace another former Hab, as he will be in the running to take over Michael Ryder's spot on the third line.
2010-11 stats: 79 games, 13-17-30, plus-2, 87 PIMs
Playoffs: 3 games, 0-0-0, Even, 7 PIMs
Contract status: Signed through 2011-12, $1.1-million cap hit
Preseason expectations: The Canadiens had cause for optimism with Pouliot heading into last season. He was coming off his best NHL campaign with 17-11-28 totals in 53 games, with 15 of those goals coming in just 39 games in Montreal after being acquired from Minnesota. The Habs were hoping for continued progress from the fourth overall pick of the 2005 draft.
Regular-season evaluation: That progress wasn't to be. Instead, Pouliot regressed in his first full season in Montreal. He was limited to a bottom-six role and saw almost no time on special teams with 10:44 of his 11:32 average ice time coming at even strength. The 6-foot-3, 199-pound Pouliot did make better use of his size, with a career-high 110 hits nearly doubling his total of 61 from the previous season. He even dropped the gloves twice (and dropped David Krejci once) after having had just one career fight coming into the season. He didn't score a lot, but he had some timely strikes, with four of his 13 goals serving as game-winners.
Playoff evaluation: Pouliot's biggest impact in Montreal's opening-round series against the Bruins came in Game 3 when he delivered a late, high hit on Johnny Boychuk at the end of the first period. That drew the ire of Andrew Ference, with Pouliot getting the extra minor for charging after their bout. Pouliot did not see the ice again as a Canadien, as he was scratched for the final four games of the series. He averaged just 6:12 in the three games he did play and did not have a point or even a shot on goal. If there's any lingering bad blood from the Bruins side over that incident or Pouliot's one-punch knockdown of Krejci in February and refusal to fight Milan Lucic in the rematch the following month, it won't come from Ference. "That's the thing about hockey, you hate each other one second, then a phone call later you have to be teammates," Ference said of Pouliot making the rare move over from enemy lines in the heated Bruins-Canadiens rivalry. "That's the way it is. I'm sure there's not too many trades between us and them, but we got along fine with Michael Ryder, so …"
2011-12 outlook: The Canadiens chose not to tender a qualifying offer to Pouliot after the season, making him an unrestricted free agent. The Bruins took a low-risk flier on the talented but inconsistent forward, signing him to a one-year deal at a relatively modest $1.1 million. That's a small enough investment that the Bruins won't hesitate to cut ties if he doesn't work out, but with Mark Recchi retiring and Ryder signing with Dallas, there are openings up front. Pouliot will be given a chance to win one of those spots, and if Claude Julien can get him to play with a more consistent effort, the rewards could far outweigh the risks with this unexpected signing.
Coming Saturday, July 30: Jordan Caron
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