Pouliot promising for Wild

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:47 AM ET

His numbers in the minors aren't great.

In fact, before getting called up by the Minnesota Wild, Benoit Pouliot was sixth in team scoring with the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League.

Yet the 21-year-old rookie scored his first two NHL goals in a 5-4 loss to the Calgary Flames on Saturday and there's talk he could be a better player at this level than he is in the minors.

"I think he's got more points in two games with us than he had all year," joked Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire. "Sure that's possible. The players that you play with here are better with the puck and it's a different game, it's not as scrambley.

"In the minors it's not the same. There are a lot of guys out of position and in the NHL it's not like that, it's different. Also the players are better. If you give them the puck, they'll do something for you."

Pouliot was the Wild's first pick - fourth overall - in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. However, he's had troubles cracking their roster out of training camp. Last season he had 19 goals and 17 assists in 69 games with the Aeros.

"I think when people say that (being better in the NHL) I have to agree with them," Pouliot said. "You come up here and play with players like (Marian) Gaborik, (Pavol) Demitra and (Pierre-Marc) Bouchard and it can make your game much, much easier when you're playing in the NHL.

"If you give them in the puck in a good spot they'll probably put it in. In that sense it might be easier to play in the NHL than it is in the minors."

This year Pouliot was hoping to make the team, but was sent back to the minors to start the season and called up briefly for three games in November.

A former junior standout, he scored 64 goals in his final two years with the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League.

"The lineup they had here was pretty good, so there wasn't a lot of spots available," Pouliot said. "I know I'll get my chance, it doesn't matter if it comes this year or next year. I also know if I keep working like I am right now, then there's a chance I can stay."

Pouliot was called up to fill the void left by the injury to Eric Belanger.

Steve Kelly - the player the Oilers selected in the 1995 draft instead of Shane Doan - was originally called up to take Belanger's place, but was

injured in his second game with the Wild. Kelly had not played an NHL game in over five years, having toiled in Europe, before singing as a free agent this summer.

Prior to his call-up, Pouliot had 10 goals and 14 assists in 46 games with the Aeros this season.

"It's a different team down there, it's all defence," he said. "All of our games are 1-0, 2-0, 2-1. Down there, the center has to stay high, be the first guy to come back and check. It's a different game, the coach is a little different.

"But here there is a little more freedom on the offensive side."


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