Nine years ago, Benoit Pouliot had to wait to see where he would land in the NHL. The 2004-05 lockout delayed the draft a month that summer.
He also had to wait a season-and-a-half to see how he would cope in major junior with the Sudbury Wolves.
The hockey world has waited for Pouliot, too.
Occasionally, there have been glimpses that he was worthy of the being the fourth overall selection in 2005 by the Minnesota Wild after Sidney Crosby, after Bobby Ryan and after Jack Johnson. Occasionally, he makes a play like he did for the New York Rangers in the opener of the Stanley Cup final on Wednesday.
Early in the game, Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty attempted a toe-drag move on Pouliot, just inside the Rangers blue line. Pouliot stripped his opponent of the puck, utilized his speed to score the first goal of the series on a breakaway.
Maybe the 27-year-old Pouliot has found a home on Broadway. He certainly has bounced around as pro. He spent three-and-a-half years in the Wild organization, a year-and-a-half with the Montreal Canadiens, a season each with the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning. He's finishing up his one-year contract with the Rangers.
Product of a hockey family
Pouliot was raised in a hockey family from St. Isidore, just east of Ottawa. Diane and Sylvain's three sons - David, Benoit and Hugo - all played hockey and were coached by their father.
Sylvain captained the St. Isidore Eagles to the 1977-78 Eastern Ontario junior B championship. One of the goalies on the team was Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley.
Twenty-four years later, Sylvain was diagnosed with leukemia and his shy middle son was drafted 11th overall by the OHL Sudbury Wolves. But Benoit couldn't crack the Wolves. He was sent home to play Tier II junior with the Hawkesbury Hawks after back-to-back training camps by Wolves general manager/head coach Mike Foligno.
But the Wolves organization couldn't ignore how well Pouliot was playing with Hawkesbury in 2003-04. So they promoted him for a pair of weekend games in Sudbury against Mississauga and Belleville.
What did Pouliot do? He scores five minutes and 28 seconds in his debut game with his father slipping in and out of consciousness back home, listening to the game on the internet. The Wolves won 4-3. Sylvain passed away 24 hours later on Valentine's Day 2004.
The family kept the news from Benoit. He played the next day, checked in with an assist on a go-ahead goal in a 4-2 win. Then he returned home to finish the season in Hawkesbury. His mom met him at the airport and as Gare Joyce wrote in ESPN the Magazine, Pouliot could tell by her expression that his father was gone.
"I think he knew," she told Joyce for his story. "Something told him. The change in the flight. [Foligno] driving him to the airport. The way people spoke. But when I told him, I broke down.
"Benoit, his expression didn't change."
Fast forward, a decade later, and Pouliot has enjoyed his best season. He produced a career-high 36 points in 80 games. He continued to produce in the playoffs with four goals and nine points in 21 games. The left wing has exhibited good chemistry with centre Derick Brassard and right wing Mats Zuccarello, a line that was put together around the midway point of the regular season.
Now we'll see if the time is right for Pouliot and the Rangers. They certainly have their work cut out against the Kings. We'll see if the wait is over.
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