2008 prospects: Kevin Poulin

By Kevin Forbes

The importance of a player’s draft season is something that can never be undervalued. Potentially more than any other time in their hockey playing career, a player is so closely judged by his play that in fact, the future existence of his career in the sport hangs in the balance.

Once thought to be the top goaltender in the draft, Poulin saw his stock fall dramatically during the 2007-08 season. Although he took over a larger role compared to his rookie season, it appeared that as the minutes grew more regular, his play grew more irregular. Poulin’s troubles, like most young goaltenders, were a matter of consistency. But the catch is that some believe his up-and-down play had more to do with his style than just with his youth.

The main criticism of Poulin is that his style itself is too risky. Instead of standard positioning and waiting for the shot, he relies heavily on his reflexes and athleticism to stop the puck. In essence, he reacts to the shot as opposed to simply preventing a goal. This forces him to almost have to guess at where the puck is going in order to make the save in time.

When he is on his game and he guesses correctly, he can stonewall a team and play, perhaps, even more effective than a traditional square-to-the-shooter goaltender. However, when he is off his game and he guesses incorrectly, before he can correct himself, the red light is on. As one scout, who did not wish to be identified, noted, "It’s great when you stop them, but it looks really bad when you don’t."

A big goaltender at 6’1 and 202 pounds, Poulin started his QMJHL career with the Victoriaville Tigres after being selected third overall in the 2006 QMJHL Entry Draft. A native of Montreal, Poulin stepped right into the lineup after the draft and stole the show, playing in 24 games for the Tigres behind veteran netminder Jean-Christophe Blanchard. Poulin finished his rookie season with a record of 10-6 and a 3.34 goals-against-average as well as a .896 save percentage.

His play was strong enough for Victoriaville to hand him the starting reins the following season, shipping Blanchard off to the Rimouski Oceanic early in the season. All told, Poulin appeared in 52 games, with an 18-24 record. His save percentage dipped to .887 and his goals-against-average rose to 3.69. Of particular note was a game against the high-scoring Halifax Mooseheads, where Poulin made 46 saves and stopped another two during the shootout to earn a 3-2 win. Central Scouting’s Kim Houston was at that game and remembers it as, "a real tight game, but he scares me a little bit because he’s all over the place. He stopped the puck that night and the bottom line is you have to stop the puck."

The Tigres made the postseason as the last seed and once again faced theMooseheads, this time in the first round. Over the course of the six g-ame series, Poulin was lit up with a save percentage of .846 and a goals-against-average of 5.80. However, despite this setback, it was his mental state that had scouts talking during the series. After being outscored 17-3 in the first two games of the series, Poulin and the Tigres fought back to win a pair of games in Victoriaville with Poulin making 61 saves during the two matches to help preserve the win.

As one scout explained, "Poulin, even after a couple goals, he’s very sure of himself and he’s still very controlled in his movements." Though the Tigres were finished off soon afterwards, Poulin had made his mark. In two games over the course of the series, Poulin was pulled and then put back in later on after the Tigres backup also fared poorly under the Mooseheads’ onslaught. In both cases, Poulin was able to rebound quickly and play solid hockey in his second attempt, surrendering only a single goal over a period and a half of accumulative hockey.

An athletic goaltender, some believe that Poulin has the tools that, if properly coached, could lead him to become a star goaltender. One scout explained him as a goalie who is "very good on the angles, but he commits a bit too much at times. He gets down in the wrong positions, plays the wrong angles sometimes and it’s almost like he’s cheating, thinking the play out ahead of time and he gets caught a lot. But he never over-reacts, never takes himself right out of the play. The problem that Poulin has is it is the second shot that gets him, the rebound."

For Kim Houston, it’s a matter of keeping things simple, noting that "when you watch him and he’s all over the place, it makes it looks like he’s making big dramatic saves, but a good goalie is going to be in the right position, doing more by doing less."

His other fundamentals are there, from his size, to his aggressive behavior that will see him do anything to stop the puck, but if a team with a good goaltending coach can settle him down and refine his technique to maximize his physical attributes, he could turn out to be an extremely solid player.