Benoit Pouliot had a lot to prove. He's actually proving to be quite the bargain.
The Buffalo Sabres took a flier on Pouliot following his buyout by Edmonton. They signed him to a one-year contract worth $1.15 million July 1.
There were nine other forwards who signed for more money on the opening day of free agency. Pouliot has more goals than all of them with eight.
It's taken him just 31 games to match the goal total he recorded in 67 games with Edmonton last year.
"I feel pretty good," Pouliot said in KeyBank Center. "It's positive, and for the whole team it's good."
It could be even better for the team come trade-deadline time. Of the pending unrestricted free agents – also known as deadline rentals – Pouliot is tied for ninth in goals. Teammate Evander Kane is fifth with 14 goals, so the Sabres could have a few bargaining chips.
The players, of course, are focused on building up Buffalo, not picturing their next home. The Sabres head into Thursday's game in Philadelphia on a 2-0-2 run that has lifted their spirits more than their overall record (8-17-6).
"We've got to build on it and keep the momentum," Pouliot said.
After falling out of favor in Edmonton, Pouliot turned to Buffalo because he figured he'd get a chance. He is. He has consistently lined up as the second left winger behind Kane, which means he skates with playmaking centers Ryan O'Reilly and Jack Eichel.
Pouliot has responded by tying for second on the team in goals. On a team that lacks finish, Pouliot is providing it. He is scoring on 17.4 percent of his shots, which is higher than his already-impressive career average of 13.4 percent.
"I just show up at the rink and try to play hard, try to play good and help the team as much as I can," he said. "The guys that I play with help a lot, too, and being in different situations in games helps."
Pouliot is an equal-opportunity scorer, connecting six times at even strength to go with one power-play goal and one short-handed tally. The Sabres are 6-0-1 when he scores and 7-0-1 when he registers a point.
— NHL (@NHL) December 13, 2017
The 31-year-old added another entry to the Sabres' highlight reel during Tuesday's 3-2 victory over Ottawa. He kick-started a three-goal second period by picking up the puck at his blue line, sneaking between two Senators at their blue line and slipping a shot between the pads of goaltender Mike Condon.
The goal energized the fans and made the Senators look silly, particularly Condon and Dion Phaneuf. The big defenseman shoved Pouliot, but the winger barely slowed while going past.
"I kind of picked my head up there at the last second and saw him stepping up, so he kind of surprised me a little bit," Pouliot said. "I thought he was going to put a check on me, and I just snuck by him luckily, and things went well after that."
Things are going well for the Sabres in terms of the contract. Pouliot has two more goals than fellow July 1 signees Nick Bonino (four years, $16.4 million with Nashville), Justin Williams (two years, $9 million with Carolina), Brian Boyle (two years, $5.1 million with New Jersey) and Brett Connolly (two years, $3 million with Washington).
Pouliot has 11 points, which is topped only by Williams' 20.
The one area Pouliot would like to improve is his consistency. He had one assist in the opening eight games, then went on a run of six goals and seven points in 10 games. He followed that with nine straight games without a point.
He has two goals and three points in the last four games, so Buffalo is hopeful it's the start of another hot streak.
The game in Philadelphia features streaking teams that sit at the bottom of the standings. While the Sabres have points in four straight, the Flyers have won four in a row. They've improved to 12-11-7, which is good for seventh in the eight-team Metropolitan Division but puts them just four points out of a wild-card spot.
Philly beat Toronto, 4-2, Tuesday to kick off a five-game homestand. The Flyers had lost six straight at home.
They'll be meeting a Buffalo team that is finally feeling good about its ability to make plays and get points.
"We're starting to make a few plays, starting to execute a little bit," right wing Kyle Okposo said. "We did a really good job with our middle guy on the ice. We hit him a couple times, especially in the second period, and we were able to get some speed. We were able to generate some chances that way, and we just did a better job of executing."
Story topics: Benoit Pouliot