One year before the Islanders used early-round picks to draft Mikko Koskinen and Anders Nilsson, they selected a goalie out of the Quebec League named Kevin Poulin in the fifth round in 2008.
Poulin, who turned 20 last Monday, has developed over the last year into a strong prospect. You won’t find his name in The Hockey News’ Future Watch issue – not even in the Islanders’ top ten – but that’s what happens with under-the-radar youngsters when no one is really paying attention. A poll I conducted of scouts and other NHL team hockey ops personnel in the last week of the regular season revealed that hardly anyone knew Poulin was property of the New York Islanders. However, they did know he was good.
“There are so many raw-talented goalies in the Quebec League that, to be frank, many of them tend to be a dime-a-dozen,” emailed an Eastern Conference QMJHL scout that has watched Poulin play for four seasons in Victoriaville. “What it looks like now is that Poulin is not an average prospect. From what he’s shown this season, I’d have to say he has a legitimate chance to play in the NHL if the Islanders bring him along the right way.”
Poulin may seem like a late-bloomer, but the goalie hasn’t come out of nowhere. Scouts have known his name for years. The season before the Islanders drafted him, many viewed him as a first round talent and the best netminding prospect in the Quebec League. Then he posted a 3.85 GAA and .885 save percentage in the 2007-08 season and the numbers did not justify an early-round selection. Poulin also sustained a string of injuries, including a dislocated kneecap suffered during one of those pointless exhibitions of pre-game soccer.
However, Islanders staffers – including long-time Quebec League scout Mario Saraceno – were confident the kid was worthy of the mild risk of a fifth round pick. The move has paid off.
Reality may be settling in, in the form of a juggernaut St. John’s team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Final, but Poulin carried out-manned Victoriaville in the regular season and the playoffs. He had a 2.63 GAA in the regular season – an incredible number in the high-scoring QMJHL. Before running into the buzzsaw that is St. John’s, Poulin took Les Tigres to the Final with playoff series victories over Shawinigan and Quebec. Over ten games in the first two rounds, Poulin was 8-2 with a 1.86 GAA and .943 save percentage. He was recently named Goaltender of the Week in the Canadian Hockey League.
What has been the difference?
“I think the biggest change is that, over the last two years since the Islanders drafted me, I’ve learned to take better care of myself,” Poulin told Point Blank during the first round of the playoffs. “Through the prospect camps in the summer and dealing with (goalie consultant) Sudsie Maharaj, I’ve learned a lot about conditioning, nutrition and getting ready to be a professional.”
Later on, Poulin added with a laugh, “I’m in so much better shape now than I was two years ago, it’s ridiculous.” The 6-2 Poulin used to play at 210-15 pounds. Now he’s a consistent 200. “I’m quicker, more flexible now,” he said.
Poulin was so improved in every aspect of his butterfly-style game that the general manager and head coach of the Quebec Ramparts was moved to declare Poulin as the best goaltender in Canadian junior hockey. That would be Patrick Roy.
“I heard about that,” said Poulin. “You have to be pretty proud about a comment like that coming from one of the best goalies in the history of the game.”
It’s impossible to predict how Poulin’s new-found success at the junior level will translate to the pro game. His significant development in the Islanders’ ranks, however, does make him a must-sign for the Islanders. Poulin is every bit the prospect as Koskinen and Nilsson, selected a year later and a lot earlier in the draft.
“Out of my control,” said Poulin, whose team trails Saint John 2-0 in their best-of-seven series with Game 3 tomorrow. “That’s another thing I’ve learned – to control only what I can control. I do hope I get a chance with the Islanders. I remember first meeting Sudsie, Ryan Jankowski and that really big guy (Eric Cairns) at the draft combine. They showed a lot of confidence in my ability when, I guess, a lot of teams stopped for a while. The Islanders played a big part in me getting better these last two years, so I hope everything works out and I get a chance with them.”
By the deadline of June 1, it will.
Asked what he knows about Poulin, Islanders coach Scott Gordon – a former goalie – said he was impressed by the youngster’s play at prospect camp on Long Island and the main camp in Saskatoon. “The ability is definitely there.”
And then Gordon relayed a story.
On the second-to-last night of the QMJHL regular season, Poulin tied the Victoriaville franchise record for shutouts in a season. “Kevin talked to Sudsie after the game and said something like, ‘It’s too bad the season is almost over. I would have liked to get the record.’ Sudsie said to the kid, ‘What do you mean? You do have one game left.’”
On the final day of the season, Poulin made the record his own.
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