Monday, November 23, 2009

Latendresse For Pouliot

Meeting The New Hab

In a move that flies completely in the face of those who advocate deadline only trading, Bob Gainey has moved Guillaume Latendresse for Benoit Pouliot of the Minnesota Wild. Arpon Basu wonders whether it's a trade of untapped (or indeed non-existent) potential here...

While he's right and many may question the professional scouts read on the tentative NHL beginnings of Benoit Pouliot, Guillaume Latendresse's time in Montreal was beginning to try on the young man. Reports mere minutes after his trade talk of his relief to be dealt away from the furnace of Montreal hockey.

It's a hard trade to take for the biggest believers in Latendresse, but it would be hard even for them to deny what has become clear – that despite his talent, he will probably never acquire a taste for hanging out in front of the net, despite mentioning Tomas Holmstrom in every other interview. Seeing as he's opting not to go the route of power forward, it seems Gainey and the management have opted to put the stakes of just under a million on a player with a different complement of talents, and just about as much size. One of those talents does happen to be skating – which may just fit in better with a team that had to slow down for Gui at times.

Benoit Pouliot himself is a Franco-Canadian, and speaks French. So although the omission of Latendresse takes the number of Quebecers to the equal season low of three, it maintains the RDS correspondents at an equilibrium.

He was once judged to be a massive talent and in the Crosby draft was even considered to be the next man in the pecking order. Central scouting had him as the #2 consensus pick, scouts compared him to Lecavalier. Since that time, his progress has been rocky – rockier, it must be said than Latendresse's. However, Pouliot has been groomed the traditional way, and for the most part in a defensive system – two things that may help him to adjust better to life under Jacques Martin than Guillaume. If you want a taste of speculative good news, it is that his former coach (and hockey guru) Jacques Lemaire was supposedly plugging for the kid in Jersey as recently as last Tuesday, so take that for what it's worth. Thanks to Saskhab for pointing out my frantic misread of a headline – to make up for it, some speculation that actually did take place (Habs last year) and whatever he says today on his blog, Mirtle liked Pouliot second best in July 2005 – better than Ryan, Johnson, and Brule.

At the junior level, he was once an unknown who became a rookie of the year in the OHL (and the CHL!), and then a 4th overall pick. His biggest achievement post-draft to date has been a gold at the World Junior champs with 5 assists in 6 games – team that Latendresse also made (but didn't really play for) and Chipchura captained. Following that, another good year in junior with improved totals and then on to the AHL.

While he has certainly not set the world alight in the AHL, he has nonetheless put up 38 goals and 84 points in 143 games. Again, the Houston Aeros have been a mirror of their parent Wild club, stressing defence over all else, so his points may sell him short. The fact he made a prolonged playoff run last year may also have given him some experience of value in his apprenticeship, though now it feels like we're clutching at straws.

At the NHL level, it's also been a trial. When you consider Guillaume's 50-odd goals in the big leagues, it seems like a big step down to Pouliot's nine. And another big leap to call that potential equal to, or superior to, that of Guillaume Latendresse. However, his route to the NHL has been so divergent from Lats'. Never has he enjoyed the extended wing time with Saku Koivu or even Robert Lang that Guillaume did. Nor has he been reserved preferential treatment for development opportunities. That is until this season.

I could go on, but what you will all want to read on the new guy has already been written. Go fill your boots with: "The Ballad of Benoit Pouliot", an article that relays the Minnesota Wild fan's thoughts on our new ward very nicely.

Who wins the trade?

Well, some text from the article on Pouliot could have been lifted straight form the Guillaume Latendresse archives:
"With the regime change in Minnesota, many were expecting Pouliot to fall by the wayside. Certainly there would have been enough reason to. But Chuck Fletcher decided to give the youngster another shot. Pouliot came into camp this season ready to prove himself and, again, he has certainly shown flashes of what he is capable of."

However, never would anyone attribute the following to Big Gui:
"But what stood out most to me, was that he skated hard without actually looking like he skated hard. It dawned on me that maybe this is one of the reasons that he has been given the label of lazy. Because, quite simply, while everyone looks like they’re skating on the ice, he looks like he’s skating above it."

There's optimism in knowing that a player coming to play a game where skating is half the battle doesn't need summer courses to keep up with the slower half of his peers. There's optimism knowing that a broken player weighed down by unreasonable expectation will be replaced by one with expectations of his own. There's optimism in knowing that only 4 years ago about 30 men trained to evaluate players said the new guy was a better bet than the outgoing. If for no other reason than those, I find positive thoughts in this trade.

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