Redskin

Penguins prospects Sam Poulin and Nathan Legare know it’s time to find their NHL legs


It remains to be seen if Sam Poulin and Nathan Legare — the Penguinsfirst- and third-round picks in 2019, respectively — will live up to their considerable pedigrees. So far, they have not.

The duo, however, is talking a pretty big game in the early stages of camp.

There was no arrogance, but the two power forwards weren’t measured the way most prospects are. There was some extreme confidence. Or, maybe, it was a hint of desperation.

Legare scored only seven goals in a terribly disappointing AHL debut with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season. Some believe he’s no longer destined to be an NHL contributor, which wasn’t the case a couple of years ago.

The 21-year-old Montreal native doesn’t share such sentiments.

Just listen to him.

“All training camps are big,” Legare said. “But this one is different for me, and I know that. Last year? It was no good for me. No good at all. I’m going to show up this year and show everybody that the real Nathan Legare is here. Starting from the first practice, that’s what I want to do.”


Nathan Legare. (Charles LeClaire / USA Today)

The knock on Legare is the same knock Poulin has been dealing with for years.

Big kid. Good shot. Good instincts. Not much of a skater. 

This didn’t stop then-Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford from taking Poulin in the first round and Legare in the second round that season. Both 21-year-olds are big, rugged players. The Penguins have long thrived with forwards known more for their speed than size, and in Poulin and Legare, a philosophical change from the Rutherford regime was clear.

Still, big or not, players must be able to skate at least adequately in today’s NHL.

“I always have to work on it,” Poulin acknowledged. “It’s just the way it’s always been. I have a big body. But I’ve needed to be better at skating. I know it.”

Of course, Legare hasn’t even come close to thriving at the AHL level just yet. The same could’ve been said about Poulin until a late, second-half surge last season finally started to raise some organizational eyebrows.

Like Legare, Poulin’s first AHL season started horribly. The game was too fast for him and he largely disappointed.

Then, he was a healthy scratch in January. That seemed to change everything.

“Oh, it did,” Poulin said. “I was struggling. Really struggling. It wasn’t any fun, you know. Then, I get scratched. Talk about a wake-up call for me.”

Just like that, Poulin started to produce. He finished the season with 16 goals and 37 points in 72 AHL games. It wasn’t a spectacular season, but given how it began, there was a feeling of optimism about Poulin’s progression.

“He’s a totally different player and person (than he was a year ago),” Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach J.D. Forrest said. “Those tough breaks, when they hit you later (as a prospect), it’s hard. Maybe you don’t know what to do. But he did a tremendous job. If he can continue that progression, he’s going to be a scary good player.”

Interestingly enough, Poulin enjoyed his success in Wilkes-Barre while playing center. The Penguins believed his future was at left wing when they drafted him, but Poulin thrived in the middle.

“He had more success there,” Forrest said. “He was getting good on draws.”

Then, Forrest paused for just a moment. He’s aware that some are disappointed that Poulin hasn’t reached the NHL yet.

“He digs deep,” Forrest said. “Whatever you want to say about Sam, he won’t get outworked. A battle in the corner. A face-off. He finds ways to get better every day.”

Legare vows to do the same. He spent this summer correcting two areas where he’s been questioned.

“Worked on power skating,” he said. “I worked on my work ethic a lot.”

To make his skating better?

“That’s the whole point,” he said. “I was not happy about last season. It was like in juniors, when my first year was hard. Same as last year with my first year in the AHL. It wasn’t just one thing. I was asking myself questions on the ice during games. You can’t do that. You think too much, you forget to move your feet. It was just everything. And trust me, I learned from last year.”

Legare said his confidence took a hit.

“Obviously,” he said. “I’m a goal scorer. When you’re scoring less than you used to, yeah, it’s hard. But I worked so, so hard this summer. I’m confident right now, more than in previous years.”

Legare is clearly putting pressure on himself. Perhaps that’s what he needs to thrive. It works for certain personalities.

Poulin seems to be taking a different course.

“I’ve been dealing with that pressure ever since I was drafted in the first round,” he said. “But I put enough pressure on myself as it is. I just want to be better, and I know I am. I put in the work. I feel stronger and faster now. And that’s because of the work I put in this summer.”

The knock on the Penguins’ organization is familiar at this point: They’ve got talent and they’re a playoff-caliber team. But they don’t have any prospects close to competing in the NHL. There are no young legs on the way.

Once upon a time, there was great hope that Poulin and Legare would be those guys. Poulin has the pedigree. The Penguins would very likely have drafted Legare in the second round in 2019 if they’d had a second-round pick. They were delighted and surprised when he was still around in the third round.

More than three years later, things have changed. They’re almost off the radar.

Training camp provides an opportunity to change everything, though. And they’re only 21.

“This is big,” Legare said. “I want to show what I can do.”

Poulin won’t be satisfied until he makes the NHL roster. And he plans on doing so this season.

“Oh, I do,” he said. “I believe it.”

Young legs could go a long way to aiding the talented but old Penguins.

The forgotten prospects are still awfully young.

Opportunity knocks.

“Let’s go,” Poulin said.

(Top photo of Sam Poulin: Frank Jansky / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)





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