Nearly every time Nathan Legare steps on the ice, you notice him. The Pittsburgh Penguins 20-year-old power forward who was their 2019 third-round pick will turn pro this season after four years in the QMJHL, likely with the WBS Penguins, at least to start.
Legare is unlikely to stick on the Pittsburgh Penguins roster after training camp, but that doesn’t mean the winger with a booming wrist shot and fearless shoulder pads isn’t doing everything he can to make the leap to the NHL.
During the Penguins’ Day 2 training camp scrimmage, Legare again played on the right beside Evan Rodrigues, who is playing at center, and Dominik Simon. He assisted on one goal and most definitely stood out.
Even though he will likely start the season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, all signs point toward a steady incline with Legare’s development and a potential shot at the NHL, perhaps even as soon as this season.
Nathan Legare’s Offensive Potential
Legare’s offensive instincts are stellar. As soon as his team gets possession in the defensive zone, he gets open and tries to get a jump on the defense. His breakout positioning is borderline cherry-picking but in a good way. He can easily sneak by defenders unexpectedly.
In the offensive zone, Legare has special skills. Although not the size of Brian Boyle, Legare gets to the net and plants himself like a tree. At 6-foot, 205 pounds, he’s the definition of a power-forward and a scrapper in the battle zones. He doesn’t give up on the puck.
“I think he has done a nice job. You know, he’s got good speed. I think his ability to shoot the pot really jumps out at you. You know, that’s an obvious skill that he possesses, that that’s hard to teach,” head coach Mike Sullivan said as he began to smile (credit PHN Editor-in-Chief Dan Kingerski for asking the question). “You know, a lot of guys don’t have that ability. And that certainly jumps out at me when I watch him play.”
His defensive game lacks some polish. When he is not pushing the transition, he is reserved in his own zone. He doesn’t yet go as hard into the defensive zone.
But as soon as the puck passes the fun side of the red line, Legare is like a dog on a bone. Legare and team White won 4-2 in Friday’s first scrimmage and Legare tallied an assist off the rush to Radim Zohorna shown below.
But as Eminem once said, “snap back to reality.” Does Legare have a genuine shot at making the Penguins NHL roster? As of right now, it still looks unlikely. Even with the Penguins missing two major pieces on offense with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
But Legare has improved the very thing he needed to improve when he was drafted: skating. Sullivan noticed.
“There’s a lot of little things to Nathan’s game that we’re really encouraged. I think his foot speed has improved. I think his overall confidence has improved with each year that he gets a little bit older,” Sullivan says. “He knows what to expect when he gets here, but he’s still a young player…but we’re certainly encouraged with his progress.”
Pittsburgh Penguins Winger Depth
Legare is a right-winger and is a case where that should remain his sole position. He can technically play the left side, but it could be damaging to his development to move him around. Just ask Max Domi or Alex Galchenyuk.
The Penguins current wingers at the NHL level are; Jake Guenztel, Bryan Rust, Jason Zucker, Kasperi Kapanen, Danton Heinen, Brock McGinn, Zach-Aston Reese. Others, Evan Rodrigues and Radim Zohorna are battling for center spots.
Realistically, it is unlikely that Legare will be on the Penguins opening night roster. But there is a strong chance that we see him at least once this season. Injuries are inevitable with the Penguins, and even without them, the Penguins’ winger depth is very top-heavy.
A power forward with a heavy shot could fit well in the bottom six.
Shuffling up the Lines
We may see some more diversity in the Pittsburgh Penguins top four wingers this season as opposed to the traditional Zucker, Rust, Guentzel, and Kapanen rotation we saw last season.
In training camp, Heinen has been skating with Guentzel and Jeff Carter as a makeshift first-line. Guys like Simon and even Rodrigues played top-line minutes in the past.
But one thing is for sure and that is that Legare is getting closer and closer to being NHL ready. His shot and willingness to engage physically already are.
On November 21, 2016, a Penguins third-round pick made his NHL debut three years after being drafted. He was called up due to injuries. That player went on to score two goals on his first two shots in the NHL and win a Stanley Cup that year as well.
That player was Jake Guentzel.
It is too early to tell if Legare is the next Guentzel. Those are big shoes to fill. But if Legare (who had a better scouting report than Guentzel) can crack the NHL this season, he would be ahead of Guentzel’s schedule. There’s little doubt Legare could score goals in the NHL, it’s a matter of how many.
*Owen Krepps is a student at Robert Morris University and interning with Pittsburgh Hockey Now for the fall semester. We’re happy to have him.