Sam Poulin smiled through a fat lip and a prominently missing front tooth after the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first preseason game on Monday night. The Penguins’ 2019 first-round pick will turn pro this season and is battling for an NHL roster spot amongst a handful of prospects and organizational players with NHL experience. One of those prospects he is competing against is his childhood friend, fellow 2019 Penguins draftee, and eventually Val-d’Or juniors teammate, Nathan Legare.
You can see from the photo below during Poulin’s media availability on Monday night, Poulin underwent a bit of involuntary dental work. The would-be power forward didn’t lose the chiclet in a battle on Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but instead via a teammate during the intrasquad scrimmage on Sunday at the UPMC Lemieux Complex.
As Poulin left the media room Monday night, he comically shrugged off the missing tooth, “No. No…yesterday,” he deadpanned regarding its involuntary removal.
Poulin and Legare have been buddies since the beginning of their hockey career. Both are over 6-foot and 200 pounds, both were QMJHL draftees, the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted both in 2019 (Poulin 21st overall, Legare was the Penguins third-round pick), and their junior teams traded both to Val-d’Or to finish their juniors careers last spring.
You might say they know each other.
“We just want the best of both of our games. There’s a competition like you said, but we just want the best out of each other…” Poulin replied to PHN. “I want the best for him. And he wants the best for me. So it’s nice just to have someone like him around and be able to talk with him as much.”
— Nathan Légaré (@Nathan_Legare) June 23, 2019
Poulin was the Penguins’ target, but Legare was rated higher than the third round. Penguins lore posits that the Penguins analytics guru turned to former GM Jim Rutherford at the draft table and said–Legare is still available.
A few moments later, Rutherford acquired a third-round pick (74th overall) from the Arizona Coyotes for a fourth, fifth, and seventh-round pick (98th, 151st, and 207th overall).
Pittsburgh Penguins Lines
Currently, the Penguins lineup is in flux, especially in the first month of the season when centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will be out. Crosby will presumably return in later October, but Malkin could be out into December.
The resulting lineup shuffle is likely to open spots in the Penguins’ bottom six. Currently, Evan Rodrigues and Dominik Simon are the placeholders, but their spots are available, especially Simon’s.
Poulin and Legare will play in either Wilkes-Barre/Scranton or Pittsburgh. They’ve graduated from the Q, but their readiness is still an evolving matter, and this is where they will be separated, at least for a while. The Pittsburgh Penguins are unlikely to have space on opening night for a pair of rookies still getting their sea legs.
The greenhorns are probably ticketed for the WBS Penguins, though the Penguins coaches seem to like Poulin’s complete game, while Legare may have more potential to impact games.
“I just I don’t want them to overthink it. I want them to go out there and have fun, and I want them to compete, and I want him to do what they do best,” head coach Mike Sullivan said of his prospect pool on Monday morning. “So that’s the message that we’ve given to these guys. We worked on a few things here at this first part of training camp. There are certain opportunities that players have in front of them. And it’s their prerogative to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Monday night, Legare had three shots and three hits against Columbus. Poulin had two shots and two hits but was a minus-2. Columbus’ second goal was scored when Poulin didn’t track Adam Boqvist back into the defensive zone, and Boqvist had an easy look from the low slot.
Those are the sort of mistakes that will get you a little poke in the film room but also get a player sent down to the AHL to build a little more hate and seasoning.
One of those who won’t give Poulin and guff for his mistake is Legare. The buddies root for each other and often spend time discussing the ups and downs and comparing notes after games.
“Maybe after a game we just go on our side, and we just talk about our game; I go to my side, and Sam goes to his side and then maybe after that at the hotel, we’re going to talk a little bit more about the game…last year we did some video together,” Legare said. “I think we push each other. Also, during practice, we do some stuff together.
So it’s fun. It’s a good competition. And also it’s a friendly one. So it’s very fun.”
Legare’s shot and physicality have a wow factor, while Poulin has been a quiet workman in all three zones.
There’s no question the two will share the Penguins lineup sooner than later. It seems very possible that could happen this season, though who wins the race to the NHL is still to be determined. When it does happen, there will be two little boys looking at each other now wearing NHL sweaters. It’s been a long journey together that only seems to be beginning.