SUN Hockey Pool

Pouliot finding his game

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:59 AM ET

DENVER -- Pat Quinn wasn't familiar with Marc Pouliot when he took over the reins of the Edmonton Oilers, but he'd heard good things.

Unfortunately, Pouliot was unable to make any sort of impression with his new head coach after suffering a sports hernia injury that kept him out of the lineup for most of the season.

Now that he's back, the former first-round pick is starting to win his boss over.

"He has earned the right to play some more minutes," Quinn said.

"Lets face it, he's been out all year. He's just coming back. Going into the year, I was told that he was probably going to be a guy that was going to make our team. He didn't, and now I'm just beginning to learn about him and we're seeing some good things.

"In a way, I wish we had him all year."

Pouliot scored a goal and had a number of quality chances in Edmonton's 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday and was arguably the team's best forward.

The native of Quebec City was also instrumental in helping the Oilers snap their 13-game winless skid, scoring a goal and picking up an assist in a 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday.

"It's been a while now, but I'm getting back in the routine," Pouliot said.

"It's my first road trip, so I'm excited to be out there. I've started to get my game together.

"Obviously, I still have to work on it but I'm starting to feel like I belong on the team now."

Heading into tonight's game against the Colorado Avalanche, Pouliot will be centring a line between J.F. Jacques and Zack Stortini.

The unit has been one of the Oilers' most consistent of late.

"That line has given us some real good shifts," Quinn said.

"They're tough to handle if they get in the zone and work like we talked about. They have that ability to hold the puck and to forecheck and force teams to have to take it off them, force teams to have to play defence.

"A lot of times our pretty guys will dance around and give our opponents the puck early and then we have to play defence, which is the wrong way to approach it.

"But that line's done well. They're big, strong kids, and if they play a simple game, they probably can play a lot in that other team's zone."

It's been a long and often frustrating road for Pouliot.

He was the club's first pick, 22nd overall, in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Having played on a line with Sidney Crosby, the six-foot-one, 200-pound centre had 114 points in his last year of junior.

He toiled in Edmonton's farm system for three years before finally cracking the lineup on a full-time basis last season.

After scoring eight goals and 20 points in 63 games in 2008-09, he went into this season with high expectations, but the sports hernia cost him the first 47 games of the year.

In the nine games he's played since returning, Pouliot has two goals and a pair of assists.

"I'm glad things are going well right now," he said. "I think our line has great chemistry together.

"We keep it simple, we're playing physical, we're tying to play most of our minutes in their zone and make them work.

"So far, we're doing pretty well. There is always room for improvement, we can always do better, but I think Thursday we did a pretty good job."

Playing with Stortini and Jacques has afforded Pouliot more room and also provided him some protection.

On Thursday, his linemates quickly came to his defence against John Scott, the Wild's hulking six-foot-eight, 258-pound defenceman.

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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