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Drive to the Net: Poulin packs more than punch ☕


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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Samuel Poulin's got a lot to love.

He's got the sturdy 6-foot-1, 216-pound frame, he'll confess to being "dirty" when it's appropriate, he can slide from center to left wing, he buries the puck like he hates it, he's got playmaking finesse belying all the rest, he was his QMJHL club's captain at age 17, and he was the first French-Canadian selected in the NHL Draft here Friday night, 21st overall to the Penguins.

Oh, also, he isn't 6-1.

"It's 6-1 ... and a half," as Poulin would correct me with a broad smile that reminded me so much of Ulf Samuelsson it might as well have scared Cam Neely out of the building.

But when a prospect that tool-sy lasts through 20 picks, something's missing. Might not be a fatal flaw, but it's at least a fix in progress. And to the kid's credit, in addition to his candor in acknowledging to our Dave Molinari that he's "two years" away from his own projected NHL arrival, he also brought up the one bugaboo most scouts have cited.

"I've got to work on my whole game," as he'd say, before adding, "including my skating."

Yeah, skating. The one flaw or fix few can afford in the modern NHL, as he'd also admit.

So it seems only fair to open this session with that:

That up there is Poulin skating in the No. 29 sweater, scoring in spectacular coast-to-coast form. He isn't Carl Hagelin on caffeine, but he's hardly slow. The stride in the straightaway portion through the neutral zone reminds me of a healthy Zach Aston-Reese -- I know, I know -- but it also looks like it could easily add some length.

I've spoken over the years to bigger players who've gone through the process. Kevin Stevens was the shining example, a 6-3, 230-pound, barrel-chested beast who worked tirelessly to add speed to his game and, eventually, kept pace with Mario Lemieux. Phil Bourque was another. Upon converting from defense to checking winger early in his career, he took instruction from the famous power-skating instructor Laura Stamm and eventually stretched his stride to the point where his early footage might as well have been someone else.

The stride is nonetheless sturdy and versatile in Poulin’s stop-and-start components and crossovers. He won't be starting from scratch.

Then there's all those other tools:

Nothing stands out in studying Poulin quite like the power-forward finishes.

He led the Sherbrooke Phoenix in scoring with 76 points -- 29 goals, 47 assists in 67 games, then elevated big-time in the playoffs with 14 points -- eight goals, six assists -- in 14 games. But that doesn't begin to tell the tale of how he got those goals, and what's above does. Every last one of those releases comes from below the hashes. There are one-timers from a stationary spot in the high slot, there are rebounds, there's a loooooooong wraparound, there's a drop-to-one-knee-like-Sid rip, and there's a spinning backhander for good measure.

Scouts feel Poulin scores NHL-level goals, and that subjective measurement matters. The Q's always been an offense-only league, and statistics are easily inflated. But picking corners is picking corners, and finding different ways to score is a skill unto itself.

It's possible some will enjoy this next segment even more ...

... especially after appreciating how the Blues just won the Stanley Cup.

That's one shift up there in a game at Drumondville, Quebec, and no, the puck doesn't leave the zone almost entirely because of Poulin. Track him right off the faceoff win and never let go. He smartly helps his center by slipping behind the left dot, feeds the point, sets himself for a one-timer, gets it off, chases hard to pursue the rebound, helps prevent the breakout, makes a fine wrist-turning pass after possession, then nearly murders some poor dude in the right corner on the next breakout try.

That's a St. Louis shift right there.

Which means he's all brute, right?


One positive that prospects get from the Q is that creativity isn't optional. Hockey fans in the province espouse a God-given right to be entertained, and the players follow suit, which means they're encouraged to try plays that would get them benched in the OHL and deported in the WHL.

Nothing surprised me more in this process than Poulin's vision, his passing precision and how frequently he'll achieve both of those on the rush.

Note, too, that he carves out space for himself with his skating strength but also a healthy burst when he needs it in tight quarters.

It'll be a blast watching this young man blossom. Really will. My main hope for the Penguins with this pick would be that they'd prioritize skill. They've definitely done that, and they just might have wrapped a big bow on the package, as well.

Here's more of our talk here Friday night:

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