SUN Hockey Pool

Pouliot makes an impression

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

ST. LOUIS -- Conventional wisdom says 20-year-old rookies don't get tossed into the heat of the stretch drive for their first taste of the NHL without getting burned somewhere along the way.

So far, first-year forward Marc-Antoine Pouliot, who played his sixth straight game with the Edmonton Oilers last night against the St. Louis Blues, is proving to be an exception to that rule of thumb.

While coach Craig MacTavish has changed things up on the fourth line with different wingers, the not-so-raw rookie has been a constant since making his NHL debut March 30 against Los Angeles.

Cool as a cucumber, this kid.

"It's pretty impressive when you look around and see some of these guys," said Pouliot, talking about skating against the likes of Jarome Iginla, Marian Gaborik and Shane Doan.

"Then, you realize you can play with those guys. You just play your game. I know my role."

Pouliot, the Oilers first pick, 22nd overall, in the 2003 Entry Draft, has less than one full season of pro experience on his resume.

Recalled from Hamilton of the AHL for a look-see March 13, the Rimouski Oceanic grad spent a couple of weeks taking things in before getting into his first game, against the Kings.

With a goal - he got into the books against Phoenix - and a plus-1 rating in his first five games, Pouliot was back in the mix against the Blues last night between Todd Harvey and Fernando Pisani.

"I was pessimistic about putting a young player into this situation so late in the season, but I don't have any reservations now about putting him out there," MacTavish said. "He's played exceptionally responsibly for a young guy. He's strong on the puck. He's pretty good positionally."

Averaging just under 10 minutes of playing time a game in his first five outings, Pouliot isn't being forced into too many key situations, but the fact he's in the lineup at all says something about him.

"He's giving us something," MacTavish said. "He makes plays in the offensive zone.

"The play doesn't die with him. If you're open, he's going to get it to you. He knows where to go to support and where to put the puck when he's got it. That's been impressive for a young guy.

"His willingness to battle, his physical play, I just hadn't seen any of that previously. Obviously the year in the AHL has done him a world of good in focusing him in how to play the game."

If Pouliot is feeling any pressure with every single game being so important right now, he isn't showing it.

"I want to make sure I'm playing good defensively and I want to create some offensive chances, too," Pouliot said.

"Just be useful to the team. If I'm playing 10 minutes, I want to make sure I'm not making any errors and playing with intensity. That's the role for me right now."


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