Shooting star

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:07 AM ET

So close, yet so far away.

That's how Anaheim Mighty Ducks GM Brian Burke surely felt finishing second to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes last week.

His disappointment was shared as far away as the Eastern Ontario village of St. Isadore -- specifically inside the walls of the most famous hockey home on Bernard St.

"It sucks that we already know (Crosby) is going No. 1," says Dave Pouliot, a 20-year-old defenceman on the local Jr. C team. "That it's not even going to be close."

It sucks more for Dave's brother.

"Pittsburgh is my favourite team," explains Benoit, who readily admits to having dreams of playing alongside his childhood hero, Mario Lemieux. "That's what I was kind of hoping for."

Pouliot, a 6-foot-3, 185-lb. forward with the OHL's Sudbury Wolves, is rated second on Central Scouting's list of North American skaters. With today's NHL draft virtually in his own backyard, he's the one surefire top-5 pick who is suiting up in the 'Home' dressing room.

The only other Ottawa-area native projected to possibly go in the first round is Erie Otters winger Michael Blunden.

COMPLETE PACKAGE

"Pouliot is going to be a star," an NHL scout said this week. "He's the No. 1 kid in Ontario. He has skill, size, skating ability ... he's got it all.

"He's the package."

Where he's being delivered, however, is still in question.

Burke, who has the second pick, is open to trade offers. Even if he doesn't make a deal, there's talk the Ducks prefer gritty Vancouver Giants centre Gilbert Brule.

Also tempting the teams selecting earliest will be hard-hitting Michigan Wolverines defenceman Jack Johnson, Owen Sound Attack power forward Bobby Ryan, slick Slovenian centre Anze Kopitar and towering defenceman Marc Staal, Pouliot's teammate in Sudbury.

While Crosby is thought to be the only prospect ready to make the step directly to the NHL, Pouliot says he'll go to camp in September with the intention of sticking -- but he's also looking forward to earning a spot on the national junior team in Vancouver this Christmas.

"I'm sure I could," he confidently says of playing with the pros this season. "It just depends on what team picks me. If it's a good team, it will be harder to make."

Much more likely is a return to the billet home of Leo and Liz Frappier and their two kids in Sudbury and a leadership role with the Wolves, where he'll try to improve on a sensational rookie season that saw him finish second in team scoring with 29 goals and 36 assists for 65 points in 67 games.

ADDING MUSCLE

Despite picking up almost a point a game -- and 14 more in 12 playoff matches -- one scout says Pouliot will also be asked to work on his consistency and continue to try and add some muscle to his still-growing frame.

"Otherwise, the kid is pretty much flawless," he said.

Pouliot grew up in the Eastern Ontario Cobras system of which his father, Sylvain, was president and his coach. (Sylvain Pouliot also played for Senators coach Bryan Murray when the latter guided the Rockland Nats to a Centennial Cup victory in 1976).

In his progression, a young Benoit was faced with the decision most serious players eventually have to make. And so he quit baseball -- his second favourite sport and one he excelled in as a pitcher/centre fielder -- to fully focus on hockey.

As a 15-year-old, he skated for the Jr. B team in Clarence, then spent a season with the CJHL's Hawkesbury Hawks -- forgoing the opportunity to play with the Wolves as a 16-year-old so he could be closer to his dad, who fought and eventually succumbed to cancer.

"He was the biggest influence in my life," Benoit says of his father.

"Obviously, I would rather he was here now ... he would be so amazed and happy about where I am right now. But I'm sure he's happy where he is."

Pouliot, who describes himself as more of a playmaker than a scorer, spent the summer working out with Tampa Bay Lightning star Vincent Lecavalier under the supervision of Montreal trainer Dave Arsenault.

Pouliot says he's gained 6-7 pounds of muscle and is trying to get bigger, but that at his age "it's not easy."

"I hang out with my friends, play basketball, watch TV," he says of his spare time, citing Friends and the sports channels as his favourites. He also practices discipline when it comes to nutrition, which can't be easy when you live so close to Alfred, Ont., and the world's best hot dogs and poutine.

"I have lots of steak, spaghetti, pasta," says Pouliot. "I try not to eat too much junk, but it happens sometimes."

Pouliot might want to allow himself a special celebratory binge tonight. He will be in attendance at the Westin Hotel with both of his brothers -- Dave and 16-year-old Hugo, who has followed his footsteps to Hawkesbury -- his mother Diane and her companion Doug.

Together, they will watch and wait anxiously as the Sidney Crosby Draft moves past its one, foregone conclusion.

"It will be a surprise," Benoit Pouliot says of which NHL team will soon become his new favourite. "I have no clue where I'm going."

But what he will know better than any of the other top prospects is the place he'll be. And that's at home.

don.brennan@ott.sunpub.com


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