November 24, 2009 :: 1:02am ET
Pouliot finally arrives in Montreal
By David Pagnotta, TheFourthPeriod.com

[TORONTO, ON] -- The date was July 30, 2005. I remember it fairly vividly. The lockout just ended, the draft lottery was fixed held a week earlier and the Sidney Crosby show was about to begin.

Sitting inside the Westin Hotel in Ottawa on the media riser waiting for the 2005 NHL Entry Draft to get underway, I kept thinking to myself, "Today is going to be a very interesting day."

Our radio show was airing its second-consecutive live draft show, which aired throughout parts of U.S. and Canada, and I was running around trying to grab as many draftees as possible.

After the Pittsburgh Penguins selected Crosby first-overall, the media circus really got underway. Side note: I lucked out and managed to get Crosby on the show for his first official interview, outside of TSN's live broadcast (and ticked a few people off in the process).

Shortly after Crosby hit the podium to address the media in the backstage workroom, the Anaheim Ducks grabbed Bobby Ryan and the Carolina Hurricanes chose Jack Johnson. Up next, the Minnesota Wild at No.4 followed by the Montreal Canadiens.

I returned to my seat on the riser, which was located smack in the middle of the Montreal media contingent, to get a closer look at the action.

Now, growing up in Montreal, I know how crazy hockey fans and the local media (French and English) can get. I guess I had been away from home too long (I moved to Toronto, aka the center of the universe, in the mid-90s), because when I heard the MTL-crew, specifically the French journalists, hoping and praying that Les Habitants would end up selecting Benoit Pouliot at No.5, I couldn't help but chuckle. They were even convinced it would happen.

I knew Pouliot grew up right across the Quebec border, right in the middle of Ottawa and Montreal, and I also knew how much the local media had been practically begging the organization for a francophone star to be the new poster-boy of the team (For the record, I don't blame the French media for wanting that, I understand it. But, let's take it down a notch s'il vous plait). But I thought to myself, "I bet you Minnesota ends up taking this kid."

I'm not sure why I thought the Wild was about to take Pouliot; I even had them selecting another player at the No.4 slot (I think it was Gilbert Brule). I guess it was just because everyone was so sure he was going to Montreal.

Anyway, with the fourth pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, the Minnesota Wild selected, from the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League, Benoit Pouliot.

"F**k," exclaimed one reporter.

I cracked a smile as I witnessed a bunch of grown men hold back their tears. They weren't too thrilled, but there was nothing they could do. The Canadiens had other plans, none of which the media expected.

With Brule and defenseman Luc Bourdon suggested, by the MTL boys, as likely options. I had a feeling they'd go a different direction, though I thought Brule might be the next logical choice. The Habs needed a center and Brule and Ryan O'Marra were two options.

As Habs GM Bob Gainey made his way to the podium, I started to believe that Brule was their guy. He wasn't a big kid, something Montreal needed, but he was pretty well ranked.

Gainey passed the announcing duties over to Trevor Timmins, their draft guru. Based on what I remember, here's how the next 30 seconds played out from my seat:

"The Montreal Canadiens are proud to select..." Timmins said.
"Here we go," I thought.
"...from the WHL..."
"C'est pas Bourdon (It's not Bourdon)," said one reporter.
"It must be Brule," I said.
"...Tri City Americans..."
"WTF," quasi-whispered one writer.
"...goaltender Carey Price."
"Holy crap," I said.
"(French expletives)," said another journalist.
"Whoa, what the ****," said an anglo-reporter.

Obviously, people were shocked. Even Pierre McGuire, during the live TSN broadcast, couldn't believe it: "Oh man, this is off the books. This is right off the reservation. Oh man," he said.

And the rest is history.

To this day, I still notice a bunch of the local media going back to that day, bringing up others players the Habs could have selected, like Anze Kopitar or Devin Setoguchi.

Even though Price has put up solid numbers in his very young career -- he's only 22 -- the hockey-crazy Montreal media is always on his back.

Imagine what had happened if Price was taken fourth, and Montreal ended up selecting Pouliot (even though there were no guarantees of that happening, either). The 23-year-old left wing hasn't burned up the score sheet at the NHL level yet. In 65 career NHL games to date, Pouliot has only picked up nine goals and nine assists. The city would be all over him!

But, alas. The No. 2 ranked North American skater (as per NHL Central Scouting Service) is now a Canadien -- traded to Montreal yesterday afternoon for Guillaume Latendresse, who, by the way, was picked in the second-round by the Habs in 2005 and the media went loco.

My colleagues got their wish, albeit delayed by four years.

Things weren't working out in Minnesota, and a change of scenery might him some good. It's time for a fresh start, and that's what Gainey's banking on.

"Benoit Pouliot and Guillaume Latendresse are two players at the same stage of their careers who were still looking at making a place for themselves with the teams that drafted them," Gainey said. "Often times a different environment, new teammates and a new situation can be beneficial for a player. Benoit Pouliot is a skilled player with good size. He is a very good skater with excellent skills and we intend to give him the opportunity to earn his place on our team."

Pouliot, who actually made NHL debut in Montreal on Nov. 22, 2006, has a lot of potential and a tone of talent, according to one scout I spoke with, but he seemed to lack a sense of passion in Minnesota.

If given the proper shot and the right linemates, Pouliot could evolve into the player everyone expected of him just over four years ago. I doubt we'll see him rocking it on Montreal's top line, but he's got second-line potential and if he can pop in 50 or more points per season, it's a win.

That may be a big if, but at least he's donning the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.


David Pagnotta is the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Period Magazine and covers the NHL for TheFourthPeriod.com. He is also a contributing writer for NBCSports.com and MSNBC.

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