Kovacevic: Emphasizing excitement over top picks ☕


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Samuel Poulin takes a breather Wednesday at the Lemieux Complex. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Wide-eyed and mouth mostly agape, Samuel Poulin shook his shoulders as if to wake himself up, glided forward a bit and began participating in his first semi-official performance with the Penguins.

This was a three-on-three, rink-turned-sideways, USA Hockey-inspired drill Mike Sullivan loves. And for a prospect with a power forward's pedigree, one would think it'd be a dream.

Until ...

Ugh. Not one spill but two.

But if this was to be Poulin's first test, however infinitesimal, as the franchise's first pick in the NHL Draft a few days ago, how he responded just might have meant something.

A couple other rotations passed as he waited out by the blue line. Same look. Same shake of the shoulders as he began again. Only this time, he skated in straight lines. And he lowered one of those shoulders and leveled an opponent as he blew by. And he whisked through the slot, maintaining possession on a hard backhand curl along a single blade. And he spun back with equal force before whipping a shot toward the net.

That's how it went the rest of the 45-minute session. One. Straight. Line.

I had to ask: What changed?

"For me?" he'd come back, beaming, "I started having fun."

Don't inflate this. I'm certainly not. But it was fun. And it powerfully supported the impression he made on me in Vancouver, where he casually referred to his style as occasionally 'dirty,' and where that same smile -- almost frighteningly reminiscent of Ulf Samuelsson's -- shone upon each mention of his passion for the game.

This kid's a firecracker wrapped in the frame of a bulldog. And once he gets going, whether that takes a year or two or more, all of this will translate well in Pittsburgh.

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