PITTSBURGH — It's tough to tell right now, but Benoit Pouliot isn't ruling out that Saturday "could be the best day that ever happened to me."
The left wing believes he is ready to compete for a spot as a top-six forward, and the Lightning seems ready to give him that chance.
"He's got the skill, the ability to play with our top guys," general manager Steve Yzerman said. "We're going to give him the opportunity."
Tampa Bay traded for Pouliot midway through the second day of the draft at Consol Energy Center, sending minor-leaguer Michel Ouellet and this year's fifth-round pick to the Bruins.
So, on a day when the Lightning built for the future with six draft picks, giving it eight in the two-day event, it also gave a huge boost to the present by adding a player who, at 6 feet 3, 199 pounds, "has the shot and the hands to play on the power play," Yzerman said.
Pouliot, 25, had 16 goals and 32 points in 74 games this season and was plus-18 while averaging just 12:12 of ice time. His end-to-end rush against the Panthers in which he deked a defender and pulled the puck back from between his legs and scored with a backhand while falling to his knees was a league highlight.
"It's size, speed and skill," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "Sounds pretty good to me."
As it does to Yzerman, who said Pouliot fills the major need at forward he wanted to address this summer.
"With the uncertainty of what we can get on July 1," he said of when free agency begins, "we like this option."
Why did the Bruins let him go? Indications are it was financial.
Boston has only about $3.5 million in salary cap space for next season, and Pouliot, drafted fourth overall by the Wild in 2005, is a pending restricted free agent with arbitration rights who likely will get a raise from this season's $1.1 million salary.
Pouliot — whose agent, Kent Hughes, also represents Tampa Bay captain Vinny Lecavalier — said he doesn't believe getting a deal done will be a problem. He also is eager to play for Boucher, who in 2009-10 coached Pouliot for three games at Hamilton, the Canadiens' AHL affiliate.
Pouliot still is raw in a lot of ways, Boucher said, but he believes the player's commitment to a two-way game has improved and is ready to take the step the Lightning will offer.
"He's one of those guys who's got high-end talent who are just figuring out what they need to do in the NHL and where they fit, so I think we have him at the perfect time," Boucher said. "He goes to the front of the net. He's not afraid to go along the boards, so right now it's to continue building what he started and make him consistent. It's a great project for us and a great addition to our team."
"It's a big opportunity for me to get a chance to play with Tampa," said Pouliot, who averaged 15 goals and 30 points the past three seasons with the Wild, Canadiens and Bruins. "You never know what can happen. It could be the best day that ever happened to me. I'm real excited to get started."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]