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Islanders Top 25 Under 25: At #18, Kevin Poulin, goalie stock of unknown value

We still have hope. Do we have reason?

Changing the guard, or warming the seat?
Changing the guard, or warming the seat?

There is division in our ranks.

Today's Islanders Top 25 Under 25 entry is essentially the companion piece to the one a few days ago that considered Anders Nilsson at #21: What do the Isles have in their two primary goalie prospects, and at what point will we know what they have?

Kevin Poulin, #18 on our countdown, got a lot of hopes up as a rising prospect and as an impressive NHL rookie three seasons ago. His performance and his .924 save percentage in 10 games of 2010-11 looked good, though it was couched in the ol' "small sample size" alert as well as some desperate context in a season when the Islanders used six different goaltenders of varying ages and health.

Just as the vitamin deficiency health issue puts an asterisk next to Nilsson, so too does the knee injury that interrupted Poulin's development.

If you're optimistic, Poulin had a healthy year and it takes a while to come "all the way back" from injury. If you're pessimistic on Poulin, he hasn't been the same since the injury -- or worse, perhaps that "same" was an illusion: His numbers have declined two years in a row at both the NHL and AHL levels.

Whatever the true Poulin, he'll need to show more next season to remain in our Top 25. At age 23, his ELC is expired and he'll be due an RFA qualifying offer this summer. He had some big games for Bridgeport this year. He also had some clunkers. All goalies have some of both.

The Isles certainly haven't seen enough to bank on him being a starter -- nor did they try, as they rode Evgeni Nabokov all season. They might be able to hope Poulin is a backup next year, as he was late this season after he and Rick DiPietro swapped places. Or their cold storage might betray more of their evaluation of his progress than we realize.

His two appearances in the playoffs were palatable contrasts to Evgeni Nabokov, but in both mop-up duty instances the Penguins no longer had much incentive to score.

Here is how our panel voted this spring, where we're clearly torn both on how valuable Poulin is and whether he is the more promising prospect than Nilsson (three of us had Nilsson slightly higher):

CIL KQ MikB Mark David MikeFIG Chris Dom
17 20 11 23 19 25 10 20

A sampling of comments as we voted:

Mark D, Milbury Archivist:

Was tempted to leave him off, but left him cause of my Rosen vote. Don't think he's the same player as before the injury.

Chris McNally, Comeau Stalker:

Poulin has been average at best since his injury a couple seasons ago, but I still believe he'll be a better NHL goalie than Nilsson. The most sporadic game action of any goalie since March 1, he did stop 65 of the last 70 shots he faced (.929%) over his final 9ish periods of 2013, giving me a little hope, and Poulin a little confidence, going into next season.

Mike, FIGmeister:

He's more in my top 25 simply because of what he was like prior to his injury. I hope that's not the only fond memories we end up having of him.

My own write-up here is enough on how I feel. I was once high on Poulin and still believe the injury hiccups were a factor in his development, though I entertain the possibility they just masked the truth. I think it's possible lots of penalty kill time and other obstacles in Bridgeport factor in. He's certainly not had much of an audition opportunity in the NHL, and I wouldn't be shocked if he ended up putting it together as he got older and better.

But that's the tough part about the goalie position: Opportunities are few. Chances to seize them are fleeting. I'll need to see much more from him to become a true believer.