The unfortunate but inevitable news of official cancellations hit recently with the Canadian Juniors announcing their 2019-20 seasons are over. With that in mind, the Penguins have a couple of high-end prospects and since there’s nothing else going on in the hockey world right now, we might as well check in and close out the books and see how they did.
There were only three top Pens’ prospects in the CHL to start the season and one, Calen Addison, was traded in the Jason Zucker deal. That leaves only 2019 draftees Samuel Poulin (first round) and Nathan Legare (third round). Both are exciting prospects, since each could project in the sunniest outlooks to having NHL potential. Both have also signed their NHL entry level contracts, and while they will likely be going back to the juniors in 2020-21, it might not be too much longer before they could compete for NHL jobs.
Here’s his hockeydb resume:
On the surface, this is the exact type of progression you want to see from a first round draft pick in his mostly age 18 season in the Q. He’s becoming one of the older players, and was often spectacular with many multiple point games including an eight point night. Poulin dealt with a knee injury that kept him out for a stretch early in the season, but he still scored more goals and points than his draft 2018-19 season in 21 less games. All very positive signs of becoming a dominant player in the junior level. Poulin finished 14th in the QMJHL in total scoring, and his points/game was sixth best.
The Pick224 website, with advanced stats paints a pretty picture too. Poulin had strong rate scoring stats and was on ice for 64 even strength goals for this season to just 19 goals against. His shot chart too is showing that he’s developing a very good scoring ability from the front of the net and really all over the ice. He’s doing a lot of damage on the right side of the ice while on the power play.
Poulin also probably has some positional flexibility, which is a wonderful tool to add to the equation. If he can play the left and right wings with equal effectiveness (and his scoring chart seems to back that up given the location of goals) that would be a tremendous help.
Season Grade: A....Short of the knee injury, it was a wonderful year for Poulin. He’s emerged as one of the top offensive weapons in the Q and has also done well to help suppress goals against. Poulin should be a strong candidate to make the Team Canada world junior team next year (assuming, you know, a normal year happens again).
Here’s the hockeydb resume
Legare’s season progression didn’t pop as much from his draft year, but there is some context behind the boxcars. His team isn’t as strong (Legare led Bale-Comeau in goals by a margin of 14 and points by 19). Legare was also huge last season, finishing second in the Q in goals. This year he was 10th. Nothing really to be concerned about or is too telling, he remains having one of the best shots in the league.
Legare shined more on the power play, here’s a comparison of rates with Poulin from Pick 224:
Legare’s shot is his weapon, and he knows how to use it. His 251 ES shots lead the league, as did his 351 total shots. Legare is able to shoot (and score) from just about anywhere and anywhere on the ice at this level. He goes to the front of the net at ES (as you can see with all the blue goals) but he’s also able to score many goals from distance and beyond the faceoff dots. There’s no doubt this player has a plus shot and ability.
Legare also had first 21 PP1 assists, his ability to function as a power play weapon creating a ton of primary points was probably his most impressive development this year.
It’s tough to judge with a weak defensive team, but Legare’s GF vs. GA splits at even were not kind (52-75) and he was on the ice for among the most goals against in the Q. Is that simply a function of being on a bad team or being weak defensively? As usual, the answer is probably a bit of both at this point. It’s also sort of a shame for Legare, because he clearly doesn’t have a lot more to prove in the junior ranks. He can score in boatloads, that is a proven commodity. The questions that remain are how he plays away from the puck and how effective he is (or isn’t) when he gets to tougher competition. Some younger players figure out how to master that leap (think Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel, anyone has panned out). Some can never quite figure it out (think...dare I say, Daniel Sprong).
Season Grade: B...Legare set a very high bar by scoring 45 goals in his draft year, that was always going to be a tough act to follow on a team that stepped down while he himself is ramping up into a better player. He was also named team captain. A lot of what Legare excels at (shooting, creating offense on the power play) was on display this year. But the puck also ended up in his own net while he was on the ice at an alarming rate.
Considering that some scouting services actually had Legare ranked over Poulin pre-draft, this year did show why Poulin was considered a “safer” or higher-floor prospect. Almost everyone reputable had Poulin ranked in the 21-33ish overall range and he really proved why that was in 2019-20. Poulin was a very strong player and doesn’t really have many weaknesses at the junior level.
Legare was ranked more over the map in pre-draft reports anywhere from the 27-80ish spots, and that looks to be a good ranking too. If Legare develops and is able to use his skills, he could end up being a very good professional. But Legare, especially away from the puck, gives him more volatility as a prospect right now and looks to have a bigger chance to not be very helpful if he can’t be as effective scoring at the next level.
Overall though, the Pens should be nothing but pleased with the junior seasons that Poulin and Legare both had this year. Except for, of course, them ending prematurely, but that remains out of anyone’s control.