Bruins Banking on Claude Julien, Veteran Leadership on Club Getting Most Out of Talented But Enigmatic Benoit Pouliot

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Bruins Banking on Claude Julien, Veteran Leadership on Club Getting Most Out of Talented But Enigmatic Benoit Pouliot In most businesses, a $1.1-million commitment is a major investment involving a lot of risk.

In the high-stakes world of the NHL, where the salary cap has been raised to $64.3 million for the upcoming season and even the cap floor sits at a lofty $48.3 million, teams can take a chance on a player for $1.1 million without fear of any serious repercussions if the gamble doesn't pay off.

That's what the Bruins did this summer by signing forward Benoit Pouliot to the aforementioned one-year, $1.1-million deal at the start of free agency.

On the surface, Pouliot appears an unlikely fit for the Bruins. He's been an underachiever throughout his tenure in the NHL over the past five years. He doesn't possess the reputation of the kind of hard-working, competitive character guys the Bruins have built their team identity around. And he's even had some nasty run-ins with several current Bruins, dropping David Krejci in a fight, ducking Milan Lucic in the rematch and taking on Andrew Ference after delivering a cheap shot on Johnny Boychuk during Pouliot's stint on the wrong side of the Boston-Montreal rivalry.

But Pouliot possesses a rare blend of size and skill, as the 6-foot-3, 199-pounder was the fourth overall pick of the 2005 draft. That was enough for Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli to look past Pouliot's past indiscretions and disappointments to give the winger another chance. Oh, and having a veteran locker room coming off a Cup win and a coach like Claude Julien to keep him in line made it a little easier to take a chance on Pouliot, too.

"[He's] maybe someone who's underachieved but has a real good skill package and size package and you know he has to be pushed," Chiarelli said after the signing. "And I think we have a strong group that can push him and I told Benoit that. He's still relatively young. So we hope that he could buy into what we're selling."

Julien, for his part, appears eager for the opportunity to get more out of Pouliot than coaches in Minnesota and Montreal were able to accomplish.

"I know that a lot of people seem to think that he underachieved," Julien said. "At the same time, we feel that we probably will be able to give him a better opportunity here with the space that's open for him. From what I saw, when he played for Montreal, there were times where he was really physical. We saw him get in a fight with Krejci but also involved in the corners and then being physically engaged, I guess.

"I think in this surrounding here, knowing he's got good support and our team has everybody's back, I think that it's even going to be even a better situation for him. But at the same time, we expect him to come in and demonstrate his skills and use his skills that everybody seems to think he has, so I'm really optimistic about him."

Pouliot will likely be given a chance to replace Michael Ryder on the third line after Ryder signed with Dallas. There are some similarities between Pouliot and Ryder, as both came to Boston as free agents after struggles in Montreal led to less and less ice time.

Pouliot found himself a healthy scratch at times in Montreal, including the final four games of the Habs' first-round loss to the Bruins in the playoffs. He never saw the ice again after his late and high hit on Boychuk drew Ference's wrath and an extra minor penalty.

"I can do more," Pouliot said after signing in Boston. "Obviously, this year was a tough year, not saying that I didn't really get the chance that I should have, but sometimes, you know, you want to be on the top two lines, you want to be [on the] power play, especially when you're playing well. And at times, I was playing well and sometimes it's the coach's decision and you can't really do anything about it, you just have to keep playing. It's just a thing about being consistent every night, being good, playing good, in practice and in games."

Pouliot will have to find that consistency to remain in the lineup here. There are no guarantees about that. He'll face a challenge from youngsters like Jordan Caron in camp, and the Bruins won't hesitate to move on from their modest investment if other options prove more capable of contributing.

"Listen, he's been a healthy scratch in Montreal," Chiarelli said of Pouliot. "He's certainly has shown flashes. He's got to earn a spot, as will everyone else. So, you know, he's anxious to come here and to prove himself. We think he's got a pretty good package that we can work with."

And they've got a good coach to work with him. Julien has drawn criticism in the past for how he has handled some of the skilled young players he's worked with. But his patient approach with Tyler Seguin paid off when Seguin made an impact when called upon in the playoffs, while fellow youngsters like Krejci, Lucic, Brad Marchand and Adam McQuaid have blossomed under Julien's tutelage.

Julien's track record with Pouliot's predecessor was more spotty, but he always managed to get the most out of Ryder when it counted most in the playoffs. If he can get similar results from Pouliot, that $1.1 million will have been money well spent. If not, that modest investment will hardly cripple the Bruins' budget going forward, making the potential reward far outweigh the risk. 

NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will be answering one question facing the Bruins this offseason each day until Aug. 8.

Sunday, July 24: Has David Krejci proven himself as a No. 1 center in the NHL?

Tuesday, July 26: How will Joe Corvo fit into the Bruins' blue-line mix?

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