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What are the chances the Pens’ third round pick ends up better than their first rounder?

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Some scouting services liked 3rd round pick Nathan Legare better than they liked 1st rounder Samuel Poulin

2019 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

One thing I noticed while looking at the Penguins’ 2019 draft was how relative little difference some rankings had for Samuel Poulin and Nathan Legare. Poulin was selected 21st overall in the first round. Legare got selected quite a bit after him at 74th overall. But just take a look:

Sam Poulin / Nathan Legare draft ranking comparison

Source Poulin Legare
Source Poulin Legare
Central Scouting 22 54
Dobber 22 33
Wheeler 31 27
Pronman 33 29
McKenzie 24 59
Button 32 36
Future Consid 23 39
McKeen's 23 83
Hockey News 24 79
Pens Picks

The obvious question or takeaway looks that the Pens liked Poulin a bit more than most of these scouting services. Then the rest of the league seemed not to like Legare. However Pittsburgh had a high grade on Legare and felt good about trading up to grab him.

The rankings also illustrate why Poulin got picked significantly higher, his marks are pretty consistent above (high of 22, low of 33, average of 26), and where Legare was more over the map (high of 27, low of 83, average of 48).

Which brings us to the wonder that is the mad science of NHL draft rankings. 31 teams with 31 different lists and opinions. It’s how Victor Soderstrom ends up third overall on Arizona’s list, and in the mid-20s on others.

Back to the Pens’ newest prospects could Legare actually be a more valuable long-term prospect or eventually player than Poulin? Well, possibly.

Pronman, who ranked Legare in front of Poulin, in part had the following scouting notes on his 29th overall prospect who ended up going 74th overall:

First, he’s got one of the best shots in the draft. He’s scored a lot of goals this season wiring a shot from long distance off a post/crossbar or blowing it past a goalie. He’s a great scorer and it’s where he’ll make his money, but he’s also a very smart overall player...A wonky skating stride is Legare’s most noticeable weakness. He has a decent top gear, but the stride isn’t smooth with a rough first step, and he can tail off toward the end of a shift. Legare is a big body forward, but he’s not overweight, it’s a lot of muscle. That’s good, but also a minor cause for concern as scouts wonder if the skating can ever improve because his strength level is so advanced already.

Pronman also quoted an anonymous scout who said:

“He plays a heavy game. He’s got that right-shot cannon he can launch from the circle. He’s very smart, too. I just wish he was a better skater.”

Wheeler, who had Legare as his 27th best prospect, had a bit of a similar scouting report:

Légaré could probably stand to lose 5-10 pounds in an effort to get lighter and improve his foot speed but he is otherwise a complete package as a goal scorer (though he needs to involve his teammates a little more and open up his line of sight as a passer) in today’s pro game, blending a powerful net-driven mentality with a strong one-touch shot...

Post-draft, Wheeler offered a take on why Legare slipped:

If he can get into a little better shape, he’ll be an excellent pick in hindsight.

So perhaps Legare is coming with more question marks — fitness and making sure he’s in prime shape and improving his skating is a consistent hallmark of critiques. Those weaknesses (or perceived weaknesses) are probably why he wasn’t selected until where he was.

In addition to skating concerns, scouts may have picked up on another weakness for Legare - that while he is excellent at finishing chances, he doesn’t do much to support getting the puck into the zone.

Which in addition to probably a higher ceiling and better chance of making the NHL is why Poulin was seen as a low-end first rounder by just about all major scouting services — Poulin’s vision and playmaking is far superior to Legare’s.

And, for what it’s worth, while playing in the same league Legare had significantly more goals than Poulin in 2018-19 (45 to 28) and more points too (87 to 76). Though Legare was playing on a stronger team which is a factor, and of course, draft year production isn’t the end all be all for future projection. But it is interesting that based on a shot and tools, Legare could be considered right there with the first round pick at this point in some important aspects.

And again, this just goes to show that NHL draft picks can be unpredictable, and can wildly differ in value from what conventional wisdom or old narratives might suggest.

Generally speaking, over time a 21st pick should outperform a third rounder, but not by a ton. And for specific examples, results can vary drastically. In 2010 for instance, Pittsburgh’s third rounder (Bryan Rust) ended up having far more of an impact than their first rounder (Beau Bennett).

But back then at the time of the draft, Rust wasn’t generally ranked higher than Bennett this early on in the process.

To raise the stakes, Samuel Poulin and Nathan Legare have been friends since childhood and got drafted by the same team, a fitting connection.

One was picked in the first round, another in the third. But at this point there’s no real consensus of which may turn out as a better professional in the crazy, luck-riddled and unknown future of projecting 17-18 year old hockey players as professionals.

As the chart above shows, the best way to eventually turn prospects into NHL players is generally to have as many picks as possible, to best hope that more chances will mean that more will pan out. At this point, it sure looks like the Pens third round pick has as much of a shot to develop into an NHL player as just about anyone picked in the mid-to-late first round.