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Poulin's godfather, Jocelyn Thibault, sees bright future

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Penguins

Samuel Poulin, the Penguins' first-round pick (21st overall) at last weekend's NHL Draft in Vancouver, is among the many prospects attending the team's annual Development Camp. 

But this week isn't the first time Poulin has found himself inside a Penguins locker room. In fact, the first time he stepped foot inside a Penguins locker room was at Mellon Arena at the age of 8. 

Poulin attended a Penguins' game to watch his godfather, goaltender Jocelyn Thibault, play. After the game Thibault brought the youngster into the dressing room. 

"I had a chance to go into the locker room and see some of the players," Poulin said. "It's one of the moments I remember most about him."

Thibault, who is the general manager of Poulin's junior team Sherbrooke, has been with Samuel every step of the way throughout his career - from his earliest days in youth hockey to selecting him with the second-overall pick in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. 

"We knew we were so fortunate to be able to draft him," Thibault told Penguins.com. "He's a highly gifted hockey player. He's a strong kid, he can skate, shoot, score goals, make plays. But at the end of the day his passion and work ethic is so high. He's always had that."

The work ethic was there even at a young age. Thibault, who is close friends with Samuel's father and former NHLer Patrick, would often visit the Poulins' cottage in northern Quebec during the summer. And every morning, even weekends, he would see Samuel running sprints and working out. 

That effort is part of the reason that Poulin is already a solid 6-foot-1, 212 pounds at the age of 18. But what really drives that work ethic is Poulin's passion for the game. 

"Growing up he was such a hockey kid. Every time we saw each other we had to play mini sticks in the basement," Thibault said. "Every time we had dinner with the family Pat and I would talk hockey and he would sit by us and wanted to hear everything we said. 

"Pat built a backyard ice in the winter so he could skate and shoot pucks every day. When we could we would skate with him." 

While Samuel gravitated toward the sport, Thibault did his best to push him to be a goaltender, even buying him a full set of equipment one Christmas. But the experiment was short-lived. 

"I really wanted to be a goalie. He bought me my first pads when I was younger," Poulin said. "My first practice I didn't like it. I put the gear away and started being a (skater) instead."

Instead it was Thibault, a veteran goaltender of 586 NHL games on his resume, who would suit up and let Samuel shoot on him on the family's backyard pond. Even to this day, whenever a Sherbrooke goaltender is injured, Thibault will put on the gear for practice. 

"It's pretty special when some of our goalies are injured; he goes on the ice and tries to do his best," Poulin joked. "It's pretty hard for him because he hasn't played a lot since he (retired). It's funny to have him on the ice."

But does Poulin go easy on his godfather in practice? 

"I try to score on him every single time," Poulin laughed. 

Poulin's numbers speak for themselves. Last season, he posted 29 goals and 76 points in 67 games. But his best asset may be his maturity and leadership. In fact, he was named team captain at the age of 17. 

"Everybody looks up to him," Thibault said. "Even though he is young he has a presence in the dressing room and a presence around the team. You want the players to follow this guy and you want this guy to lead your organization." 

Thibault believes that "leadership has no age." And he saw that firsthand while watching an 18-year-old Sidney Crosby show the same type of leadership in the NHL. 

"Even though (Crosby) was so young he brought so much leadership with his work ethic," Thibault recalled. "His demeanor, passion and how he handled himself around the team and on the ice. I don't want to compare (Crosby and Poulin) because they're different players, but I see a lot of leadership in Sam the way I saw it in Sidney. 

"(Poulin) was 16 years old and we were telling 19- and 20-yeard-old kids to follow this kid because he was so serious, the way he eats, the way he works out. He takes practice so seriously."

And soon the two natural-born leaders may find themselves playing together and in the same locker room with Samuel's life coming full circle. 

"I'm happy that Pittsburgh drafted him," Thibault said. "I have ties with the organization. I played with (Kris) Letang, (Evgeni) Malkin and Sid. I like the Penguins organization. They run a really good organization. They put a lot of emphasis on good kids and values, hard work. They play a game like we play in juniors. 

"When I saw Sam get drafted by them, I was excited for him because I think it's a good fit for him. I would have been happy if he had been drafted anywhere, especially in the first round. It's a good feeling for his family. But to see him go to Pittsburgh, I know the team will be happy with him. I was very happy to see him go there." 

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