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Bruins add Pouliot

Ex-Canadien winger will help fill void left by Ryder (Dallas)

Michael Ryder hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Bruins, then picked up a two-year, $7 million free agent deal from the Stars. Michael Ryder hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Bruins, then picked up a two-year, $7 million free agent deal from the Stars. (Jonathan Hayward/AP/The Canadian Press)
By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / July 2, 2011

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Benoit Pouliot watched four of Montreal’s seven playoff games against the Bruins from the TD Garden and Bell Centre press boxes. Upon the conclusion of the season, Montreal declined to tender a qualifying offer to Pouliot, making the 24-year-old an unrestricted free agent.

Those red flags weren’t enough to scare away the Bruins.

Yesterday, the Bruins signed Pouliot to a one-year, $1.1 million contract. Pouliot, the No. 4 pick of the 2005 draft (the left-shot forward followed Sidney Crosby, Bobby Ryan, and Jack Johnson), is now with his third organization. Pouliot hasn’t come close to justifying his high pick. But the Bruins hope he will be a low-risk project whose skills can be wrung out by the coaching staff and the returning group of championship players.

“He’s maybe someone who’s underachieved,’’ acknowledged general manager Peter Chiarelli. “He’s got a real good skill package and a size package. He has to be pushed. We have a strong group that can push him. I’ve told Benoit that. He’s still relatively young. We hope he can buy into what we’re selling. We like his size, skating, and his shot.’’

The 6-foot-3-inch, 199-pound forward - he played on the left side in Montreal, but Chiarelli said he can play both wings - is best known around Boston for some rough stuff against the Bruins. On Feb. 9, during an 8-6 Boston romp at TD Garden, Pouliot one-punched David Krejci during a third-period scrap. In Game 3 of the playoffs, Pouliot was called for charging when he threw a high hit on Johnny Boychuk. The play brought Andrew Ference calling, and the two were called for fighting.

It was the last time the fourth-line wing dressed in 2010-11.

“He’s been a healthy scratch in Montreal,’’ said Chiarelli. “He cer tainly has shown some flashes. He’s got to earn a spot, as will everyone else. He’s anxious to come here and prove himself. We think he’s got a pretty good package.’’

Last year, Pouliot had 13 goals and 17 assists in 79 regular-season games. He averaged 11 minutes and 32 seconds of ice time.

Pouliot is the third former Canadien the Bruins have signed on the opening day of free agency. On July 1, 2008, the Bruins signed Michael Ryder to a three-year contract. A year later, the Bruins signed Steve Begin to a one-year deal.

Yesterday, the Bruins said goodbye to Ryder, who signed a two-year, $7 million contract with Dallas.

“He provided us with good service when we needed it,’’ Chiarelli said of the three-year Bruin. “It’s going to be something we have to replace. We like the growth of our guys and our forward group. We feel confident that collectively, we can replace that.’’

Pouliot is not viewed as a straight-up replacement for the 31-year-old Ryder, who fought through stretches of ineffectiveness during the regular season. Ryder was a healthy scratch for three games this past season, the only times he’d been banished to the press box during his Boston career. But Ryder emerged during the playoffs. In 25 games, the third-line wing totaled eight goals and nine assists. In Game 5 against the Canadiens, Ryder made a glove save on a Tomas Plekanec shot.

In contrast, Pouliot has never been a postseason contributor. In 22 career games, Pouliot has zero goals and two assists. This past postseason, Pouliot averaged 6:12 of ice time.

It was a disappointing end to a Montreal career that started with promise. Pouliot, originally selected by the Wild, appeared in 65 games (nine goals, nine assists) for Minnesota over parts of four seasons before he was traded to Montreal for Guillaume Latendresse on Nov. 23, 2009. The swap of former first-round picks was considered a change-of-scenery trade for both players.

Following the trade, Pouliot had 15 goals and nine assists in 39 games. But Pouliot failed to gain the trust of coach Jacques Martin, who pegged him as a fourth-liner. Then a healthy scratch. Then a nontender.

“I don’t know the circumstances of them not tendering him,’’ Chiarelli said. “He was available. He’s a guy that’s showed promise. Our scouts and myself like him as a player. It raises some, not red flags, but it means you’ve got to do more due diligence. We’re happy with the due diligence we did.’’

If Pouliot can find some direction to his game, he could be a third-line wing. Pouliot is a plus skater with an above-average shot. He can play physical when necessary.

“The reason we went after Pouliot was that we thought he’d be at a good number,’’ Chiarelli said. “He’s at a good age where we thought we could still work with him and improve him. We liked the package he brought already.’’

The Bruins signed Anton Khudobin and Trent Whitfield to two-year extensions yesterday. Khudobin will be the No. 1 goalie in Providence and insurance if Tim Thomas or Tuukka Rask are sidelined. The Bruins acquired Khudobin from Minnesota for Jeff Penner and the rights to Mikko Lehtonen on March 1. Khudobin went 9-4-1 with a 2.40 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage for Providence. The 25-year-old will be on a one-way contract in 2012-13. “He always expressed interest in coming back here if he couldn’t get a one or two spot,’’ Chiarelli said. “We gave him that opportunity. He didn’t feel comfortable. We’re happy to have him back.’’ Whitfield will be a leader in Providence and depth help for the big club. Whitfield will earn $575,000 in Boston and $105,000 in Providence in 2011-12. The center will make $575,000 in Boston and $275,000 in Providence in 2012-13 . . . The Bruins continue to negotiate with Tomas Kaberle. They have not ruled out bringing him back . . . Had the Bruins not locked them up in training camp, Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron would have hit free agency yesterday. Chara could have asked for $9 million annually. Bergeron could have started talks at $6 million. “You make your decisions and hopefully you’re proactive with them,’’ Chiarelli said. “That’s why we’re here today with the roster we have.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.

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