Update: The Pittsburgh Penguins selected Pouliot 8th overall.
Born: 01/16/94, Weyburn, Saskatchewan
NHL Central Scouting Rank: #12 North American Skater
Player Pages: NHL - EP - HF - WHL - HF
Derrick Pouliot is a mobile offensive defenseman with a just enough of a chip on his shoulder to make his presence felt on all areas of the scoresheet. Some scouts consider him to be the best skating defenseman in the draft with high marks in speed, acceleration, and agility. This means he'll be able to recover from mistakes or from forays into the offensive zone. He also has good hands in traffic, good character and work ethic, meaning he has all the tools to be a successful NHL player. His vision and hands make him an excellent passer, and whatever he lacks in defensive awareness he makes up for in smarts and physical ability.
The Portland Winterhawks of the WHL were a top defensive team, and Pouliot fit right in with a +14 rating. His offense was the most impressive, though, as he posted 11 goals and 59 points in 72 games. Seven of his 11 goals were on the powerplay, and he led the team's defense with 48 assists. He also helped Portland to Game 7 of the WHL final with 3 goals and 17 points in 22 playoff games. Though he posted 79 penalty minutes, he doesn't fight often, nor does he lose fights when he does. Those penalty minute numbers may go down as he gets a better handle on his defensive positioning next season.
Pouliot projects to be an offensive defenseman capable of running an NHL powerplay. He will need to grow into his frame, but he is a decent-sized 18-year old. His nasty streak will come in handy in those net-front battles, but he probably won't be matched against an opponent's top lines, either. His good first pass and vision will make him an asset to any team, and his skating will set him apart, meaning he's a sure bet to play in the NHL someday.
Will the Capitals draft him?:
Mike Morreale of NHL.com seems to think so, placing him as Washington's first pick at 11th overall. Adam Kimelman and Steven Hoffner of NHL.com have him at 13th and 14th, and The Hockey News puts him at 13, meaning the Caps might not get him if they wait until the 16th pick. McPhee has shown no reticence for drafting defensemen with an all-offense reputation like Mike Green and Dmitry Orlov, as Pouliot's defense is overshadowed by his offensive ability. His penchant for penalties might force McPhee to take a pass at the 11th pick, though. Judging by McPhee's affinity for players from the WHL (30 of 126 draft picks and 7 of 19 first-rounders since 1997) and especially for defensemen from that league (10 of 50 picks in rounds 1-3), the odds on the Caps picking up Pouliot are pretty decent.
Plans for next season:
If the Capitals draft Pouliot, he'll spend at least one more season in the WHL. He will be expected to take on more responsibility in Portland, running the powerplay and facing better opposition. Even if Pouliot only spends one more season in the WHL, he will almost certainly spend a full season in the AHL before he earns an NHL call-up. He likely won't be given a chance to be an NHL regular until 2015.