He's gone now, and for that we thank him for his service. In his brief Rangers stint, Benoit Pouliot showed all the signs of a player formerly taken No. 4 overall in a draft, despite the fact that his career has been characterized by one-year contracts and relocations. It was very much a surprise year for Pouliot, so let's take a look at it.
Benched, and then found
It was early December, and, much like the entire Rangers team, Pouliot was struggling to find his game. Specifically, it was December 8, and the Rangers hosted the Capitals at Madison Square Garden. Despite having skated in the first 29 games of the regular season, Pouliot had only registered two goals and three assists. So Alain Vigneault sat the 27-year-old winger, electing to play J.T. Miller in his place.
So did that benching spark Pouliot? Well, it's hard to say definitively. Within the next month, Pouliot found a home alongside Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, definitely a major contributing factor to his increased production. In his 51 games post-benching, Pouliot registed 13 goals and 18 assists, or an 82-game pace of 18 and 29. Again, his new line clicked instantly, and developed the most chemistry of any unit on the Rangers, but Pouliot seemed to get the message after Vigneault saddled him with the healthy scratch.
To that previous point, though, Pouliot's numbers when apart from Zuccarello and Brassard were still rather good. His CF%, which checked in at 55.1, was 54.7 and 54.6 without Zuccarello and Brassard respectively. His possession numbers in general were simply quite good, as is CF% was the second-highest overall of his career, even matching the season he put up in 2011-12 in Boston, where it seems just about every player excels in puck possession.
It's not as simple as just slotting in a forward from Hartford. Outside of Anton Stralman, there's a solid argument to be made that Pouliot will be the Rangers' biggest offseason loss, especially if you value puck possession. His seven power play goals were tied for the team lead, and Dan Boyle isn't really a replacement to that production, as Pouliot did all his work from the second power play unit. It's also pretty obvious whoever slots in on that line will need time to develop chemistry with whoever else is out there (can't just assume it's going to be Zuccarello and Brassard), and may never click quite as well as at that trio did.
The Rangers scoring depth was also a pretty big factor in its deep postseason run. Pouliot tallied five goals, while his line combined for 16, adding up to the Rangers top unit in the playoffs. While Rick Nash got plenty of attention for his inability to score, things would have really gone south had the Rangers not gotten that kind of production up-and-down the lineup. If it is an internal player who ends up on the third line next season, it will be difficult to match the production Pouliot got.
And for the record, Glen Sather was very smart to not attempt to compete with the likes of a five-year, $20 miilion deal.