BUFFALO – Benoit Pouliot’s 11th NHL season quickly became his worst. On an upstart Edmonton Oilers team featuring superstar Connor McDavid and loads of other young talent, the veteran winger morphed into a weak link.
The struggles started early in 2016-17 for Pouliot, who signed a one-year, $1.15 million contract with the Sabres on Saturday. On Oct. 16, following one too many penalties, coach Todd McLellan benched him for the final 40 minutes of Edmonton’s ugly 6-2 home loss to Buffalo.
Pouliot never got on track. The 30-year-old finished with eight goals and 14 points in 67 games, career-low offensive totals for a full season.
Not surprisingly, the Oilers waived Pouliot on Thursday to buy out the final two seasons of his five-year, $20 million contract.
“Last year was a really down year, negative in terms of personal stats and the way I played the game,” Pouliot said Saturday on a conference call. “It’s frustrating. I was really frustrated the whole year and I couldn’t get the game going.
“Not that I didn’t get a chance. The coaches down there and the management did so. I think, for me, it was figuring my game out, and I didn’t do that.”
Now, Pouliot has a new opportunity with the Sabres, his seventh NHL team. They needed a left winger after trading Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno on Friday. Pouliot was low-risk, high-reward option in free agency.
Pouliot, of course, wants to regain his 15-goal form from his days with the New York Rangers four years ago.
“I’m hoping to get a good look in Buffalo and a fresh start,” Pouliot said. “I’m going to be 31 years old. I’m not 23, 24 anymore. So I think I’m just looking for the best opportunity for me to extend my career. Buffalo is a team that’s rebuilding everything, and it’s the same thing for me in Edmonton, the first year I signed (in 2014).”
The 6-foot-3, 204-pound Pouliot believes he could fit well on the Sabres’ top three lines. He also thinks his style can mesh with the fast-paced game new coach Phil Housley wants to showcase.
“It’s mostly about speed and forecheck and putting pressure on the D and turning pucks over,” Pouliot said of his game. “Last year, I had my fair share of penalty killing, which I never had before.”
Still, last season was mostly miserable for the fourth overall pick in 2005.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a had a tough year like that,” Pouliot said. “During that, though, we made the playoffs and went to the second round. It was a very good experience for the guys.”
Sabres general manager Jason Botterill said Pouliot has already “been able to bounce back strong.”
“There’s opportunity on our left side right now,” he said. “I think he’s a guy who can play anywhere in that two, three, four hole. It’s going to be a matter of how he performs coming in here.
“But you look at his size and ability to get in on the forecheck, we just felt it was a guy who could compliment our centers well and be a guy that could sort of get his career back on track.”