When goaltending prospect Kevin Poulin suffered an unlikely -- yet severe -- setback last February, an already shaky situation in net got even worse for the New York Islanders.
Poulin, who was in the midst of a promising start through the first 10 games of his NHL career, dislocated his kneecap during pregame warm-ups prior to the Islanders' Feb. 8 game against Toronto, causing him to have season-ending surgery.
But seven months later, as New York charges into training camp with a healthy arsenal of goaltenders, the 21-year-old is fully healed and ready to re-establish himself as a viable option in the crease for the Islanders organization.
"It's exciting -- hockey is back," Poulin told NHL.com during Islanders rookie camp at Nassau Coliseum. "It was a long rehab, but now it's all done. I haven't played here since February, so I'm pretty happy to be out there. Just being on the ice every day for a couple hours has helped a lot to get back in the routine, get back the momentum and get back into game shape."
After a long offseason of rehabilitation and training in an effort to get back on the ice for the upcoming season, Poulin was listed on the depth chart for the rookie camp, which concluded on Sept. 12 and 13 with the Islanders' rookie games against the Boston Bruins in Uniondale, N.Y.
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"He had a great summer," Capuano told NHL.com. "Our doctors and training staff did a tremendous job with him -- making sure he's 100 percent healthy before stepping foot on the ice. He's had some time to reflect on the year that he had as well."
Last season, Poulin began the season with Islanders' AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, for whom he registered a strong 10-5-0 mark with a 2.19 goals-against-average in 15 games. After an injury to Rick DiPietro, Poulin was recalled to the Islanders on Jan. 4 -- a move that would continue a stretch of strong play for New York.
The Islanders, who finished in last place in the Atlantic Division in 2010-11, posted an impressive record of 25-21-8 in the final 54 games of the season. Poulin's strong play contributed to an early portion of that streak.
Fellow prospect Nathan Lawson allowed goals on two of the first three shots of the Islanders' Jan. 6 game against Edmonton, prompting Capuano to give Poulin a shot -- a move he would not regret.
Poulin stopped all 19 shots he faced in his debut and kept the game close in a 2-1 loss. Two days later, Poulin's sparkling play continued in his first NHL start, as he made 34 saves in guiding the Islanders to a 4-3 overtime triumph in Colorado.
All in all, Poulin's debut was a step in the right direction, as the young netminder registered a 4-2-1 record in 10 games played with the Islanders and dazzled with a .924 save percentage.
"I'm really proud of what I did last year, but it's last year," Poulin said. "This year is a new year."
Capuano coached Poulin last season in Bridgeport before being named the interim coach of the Islanders in November. Through watching him over the course of last season and in his ongoing rehab efforts this offseason, Capuano said Poulin's confidence has been a key in him performing well at both levels of the organization.
"He's a competitor," Capuano said. "He's got a little swagger to his game and high confidence in himself. If you look at our goalie situation, the guy who stops the puck is the guy that's gonna play. You want to build from your back end out, and I like the guys we have in the net."
Last season, the Islanders had limited stability in net throughout the course of the season. Between trading Dwayne Roloson to the Tampa Bay Lightning and watching injuries affect numerous goaltending options, the organization went through a total of six goaltenders during the 2010-11 season.
But with former all-star Evgeni Nabokov expected to report to training camp, and DiPietro and Al Montoya healthy as well, Poulin finds himself battling stiff competition for playing time.
"I saw them play and how to prove yourself at the pro level [last year]," Poulin said. "Last year, there were three goalies before me, and this year there's Nabokov, DiPietro and Montoya. You never know with hockey. I'll be prepared to go, whether in Bridgeport or New York."