With new 1-way deals, Penguins prospects Pouliot, Archibald look to stick as NHL regulars
Josh Archibald is planning to spend his summer in celebration mode, as he and his wife are expecting their first child in the middle of August, a few days before he's hoping to schedule his day with the Stanley Cup.
Derrick Pouliot is planning to spend his summer being yelled at by Gary Roberts.
Very different vibes, of course, but both are hoping their offseason paths lead them to the same place: a regular spot in the Penguins lineup.
Archibald and Pouliot signed one-way contracts to remain with the team, the Penguins announced Wednesday. One-way deals pay a player the same salary whether he's in the NHL or the AHL, and getting one often is the last step on the road to a permanent spot in the big leagues.
On Thursday, they talked about what those contracts mean to them.
For Pouliot, who agreed to a one-year, $800,000 deal, he's hoping it's the end of a long and arduous journey.
When he was taken eighth overall in the 2012 draft, Pouliot admitted he thought it would be a sprint to his NHL dreams. Instead, he spent three seasons on the shuttle between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre.
“It has taken maybe a little bit longer than I hoped and I expected,” Pouliot said. “It's a marathon, I guess is what I can say about it. You've got to stick with it.”
In 56 games with the Penguins during his first two pro seasons, Pouliot was a typical offensive defenseman prospect. He showed glimpses of high-end potential coupled with maddening mistakes.
Last season, though, was a step back. In 11 forgettable NHL games, he looked lost more often than not.
While general manager Jim Rutherford and coach Mike Sullivan have been unfailingly complimentary of Pouliot in their public comments, their patience will have to run out eventually. It's looking like Pouliot is approaching his last chance in the organization.
He remains optimistic he will take advantage of the opportunity for a couple of reasons.
First, he's spending a third consecutive summer in Toronto working in the gym with Roberts. Early in his career, his conditioning sometimes was criticized.
Second, he thinks a solid stretch in Wilkes-Barre at the end of last season showed he has ironed out a lot of his defensive shortcomings. He was a plus-12 in his last 24 games.
“For me to establish myself as an NHL defenseman, a regular guy in the lineup, it's kind of playing how I ended the season: solid defensively, consistent in that regard,” Pouliot said. “That's been one thing that's always been brought up about me, inconsistency. So I think it's starting with that and building each game.”
Archibald, meanwhile, was a sixth-round pick in 2011, so his one-way contract — a two-year deal with an average salary of $675,000 — represents something different.
It's the culmination of a career objective he couldn't have been sure he would reach.
Archibald was a prolific scorer as a college teammate of Jake Guentzel at Nebraska-Omaha, but he didn't top 20 points in his first two seasons in Wilkes-Barre. He had to focus on different parts of his game — his speed and physicality on the forecheck, his defense and his penalty killing — before he became a legitimate call-up option.
Once he did, Archibald had three goals in 10 games in the regular season last year and dressed for four games in the playoffs, including one in the Stanley Cup Final.
“I take these three years as really big growing years for me and taking huge strides in the right direction,” Archibald said. “When things aren't going the way you hope, you sometimes get down. You've got to persevere and push through. Knowing that I can have success at the NHL level is a huge confidence boost for me.”
Archibald's path to regular playing time is far from unblocked. Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust and Ryan Reaves are four of the right-handed wingers ahead of him on the depth chart.
Now's not the time to worry about that, though. Not with a baby and the Stanley Cup on the way.
“Hopefully I can solidify myself in the NHL in the next couple years, hopefully this year, and kind of go from there,” Archibald said.