There’s no way around it. Last season was not a good one for Benoit Pouliot.
The Sabres’ new left winger doesn’t feel he needs to reinvent himself, though. He just needs to return to form.
“I’m hoping to get a good look in Buffalo and a fresh start,” Pouliot said after signing a one-year, $1.15 million deal. “I’m almost going to be 31 years old, too, and I’m not 23, 24 anymore. I’m looking for the best opportunity for me to extend my career and be in Buffalo with a team that’s rebuilding everything. It was the same thing for me in Edmonton my first year I signed there, and now they’re on a good path.
“Hopefully, we can do that in Buffalo.”
Pouliot joined the free agent market Thursday after Edmonton bought out the final two seasons of a five-year, $20 million contract. After totaling 33 goals and 70 points in 113 games the previous two seasons, Pouliot dropped to eight goals and 14 points in 67 games last year.
“Since I’ve been in the league I don’t think I’ve had a tough year like that,” said the No. 4 overall pick in the 2005 NHL Draft. “It’s frustrating, and I was really frustrated the whole year. I couldn’t get the game going, not that I didn’t have a chance because they gave me a chance. It was just to figure my game out, and I didn’t do that.
“At the end of the year I was playing a little bit better, but for me it’s to show up and be ready right away and bring back the game I used to play when I was in New York or my first two years or Edmonton, and I’ll have success with the Sabres, for sure.”
The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder has had his moments through the years. In 2013-14, he had 15 goals and 36 points in 80 games for the New York Rangers, then added five goals and 10 points in 25 playoff appearances.
He signed with Edmonton and had 19 goals and 34 points in 58 games. Two years ago, he got time alongside center Connor McDavid and put up 14 goals and 36 points in 55 games.
Pouliot says his game his about speed, which is at the core of the system new coach Phil Housley wants to implement.
“I fit right into the system that he wants to play,” Pouliot said. “It’s mostly about speed and forecheck and putting pressure on the D, turning pucks over. Last year, I had my fair share of penalty killing, which I never had before, which was very good personally and as a team.
“Last year was a tough year overall and everything, but I can put the puck in the net. I can play in different situations with different players. It’s good for that.”
Pouliot slides into a position occupied by Evander Kane, Matt Moulson, Justin Bailey, Nicolas Deslauriers and C.J. Smith. If Pouliot returns to form, he could find himself on a scoring line. If not, he’ll fit in the bottom six.
“I feel comfortable playing with whoever,” Pouliot said. “I’m just going to go out there, and whatever the coach wants and wherever he wants to put me that’s where I’m going to do my job.
“I think I could fit in well on the top three lines. Hopefully, I’ll show up at camp ready for that. They’re a young team. They’ve had their own fair share of struggles in the past, but a new year is a new year. I’m really looking forward to being in Buffalo.”