Kevin Poulin’s renaissance season is almost complete.
Once considered the top goaltending prospect in the Québec Major Junior Hockey League, the Victoriaville Tigres’ starting goaltender is now realizing his potential after a clean bill of health all season. Now Poulin is rewarding his team’s confidence and dedication as the Tigres enter the post-season as one of the league’s top teams.
“He’s really determined; it’s a big year for him,” his head coach Yanick Jean said. “When he’s mature – when he’s 19 – you want him to be a premier player and this is what he was this year.”
Victoriaville finally saw what Poulin could accomplish in a full season. The former third-overall pick in the 2006 QMJHL draft arrived with such promise that the Tigres shipped out Jean-Christophe Blanchard, then considered one of the league’s top goaltenders, to anoint Poulin their starter while only still a sophomore.
Expectations were high for his third season, and first full campaign as a starter. Unfortunately, Poulin missed his own party.
In what should have been his ascension to stardom, Poulin spent the stretch run watching from the press box. The team missed him dearly as he rehabbed one injured knee after another, only to have him back right in time for the playoffs.
Ironically, the first injury occurred out of uniform. Poulin dislocated his left knee cap before a game shortly after Christmas that year, doing so by kicking a soccer ball in warm-up with his teammates.
“It was bad luck,” he said.
Where the first injury may have been bad luck, the second was bad planning. Poulin had been so focused on rehabbing his injured left knee that he neglected his right leg, which may have become vulnerable due to a lack of exercise.
Playing in only his fourth game since returning to the lineup, Poulin was back on the shelf after injuring his right knee against Québec.
“I think we focused too much on my left knee and we put the other one aside,” Poulin recalled. “When I came back from the first injury the other (leg) was maybe a little weak because I was only working on the left one.”
Poulin was dedicated not to miss any more of his junior career due to injury. He spent the summer working out and showed up to Victoriaville’s training camp 20 pounds lighter.
Part of his dedication away from the ice came at training camp with the New York Islanders. Poulin was chosen in the fifth-round of the 2008 draft by New York, and earned two starts against the Calgary Flames in pre-season.
Poulin soaked in the experience and the mentorship of Martin Biron during his short stint on Long Island. After seeing firsthand what it took to become, and remain, an NHL goaltender, Poulin returned to Victoriaville without needing any prompting from his coach towards fitness.
“When guys are going to the NHL level, they’re coming back and it’s like you don’t have to tell them any more. They understand,” Jean said. “As a coach, you can tell them, but they don’t always believe you. Once they see how hard the guys that are up there are working, it makes a huge difference.”
“It’s just how they prepare,” Poulin noted, “and the way they play and approach the game made me realize a lot of things.”
Poulin is now preparing for a return to the playoffs against a familiar foe. The Tigres will take on the Shawinigan Cataractes in the opening round beginning Friday, the same team that swept them in the first-round of last year’s playoffs.
The Cataractes advanced to the league championship series a year ago, losing in the seventh game to the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Although Shawinigan was hit hard by graduation, the Tigres are looking forward to the opportunity of returning the favour.
“It’s not really about revenge, but every time you feel like you have a chance of beating a team that got you out of the playoffs the year before, you want to put in a little more, you want to work a little harder,” Jean said.
Like the learning lessons from Islanders training camp, Poulin saw the dedication of the Cataractes players in last year’s series and is hoping his team can incorporate some of those characteristics for their playoff run.
“They were talented, but they were working 60 minutes pretty hard,” he said. “We have to be like this. We can’t only be good; we have to work (hard).”
Poulin is hopeful a long playoff run and team success will lead to personal success. The 19-year-old wants to sign a contract with the Islanders and begin his professional career next season.
Should Poulin receive that contract, his renaissance season will come full circle.