Is Nathan Legare Making a Case for NHL Time?

When the Pittsburgh Penguins swapped three picks to move up and draft Nathan Legare last summer, people said he was special.

Experts like the Athletic’s (Subscription Required) Jesse Marshall loved the move. Marshall event went into detail in the piece, talking about what made the kid special. But those are just words. Daniel Sprong, the guy shipped out for Marcus Pettersson last year, had similar accolades thrown his way. Not to mention, Legare was coming from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Many get bullish on QMJHL prospects as a whole due to the league’s inflated offensive statistics and general disregard for defense. The proof would be in the pudding. And at 18? Usually, we don’t get pudding for two seasons, at minimum.

Then the kid stepped on the ice.

First, it was prospect camp in late June. With a couple of wicked shots, Legare went bar down on people’s expectations. But we pulled back; it was just a prospect tournament. These are all kids.

Next, came the prospect tournament earlier this month. Again, Legare was impressive. Again, we pulled back. These are just kids, too. This isn’t a “real” NHL competition.

Now, Legare has skated in both of the Penguins pre-season games, and we have to ask, is it time to start believing? Yes, it’s just the pre-season. No, these aren’t “real” games. But when you score twice on the same shift it may be time to take a closer look at things. And that’s just what the Penguins did, signing him to his entry-level contract Friday afternoon and opening a few interesting scenarios.

Could Legare pull the same trick as Olli Maatta in 2013-2014? In other words, play so well they can’t send him back? Maybe, but probably not. But, while he probably won’t stick all season there doesn’t seem to be any harm in letting him stick around for nine NHL games. The worst that can happen is he won’t play well for a handful of games – but he’ll learn a lot. And the organization is definitely considering it.

The benefits for Legare are apparent. He’ll experience the speed of the game and learn where he needs to improve before he makes the leap full-time. There’s also the bonus of him lighting a fire in the other players on the team. Some of the NHL regulars are getting mighty close to reaching a “been there, done that” mentality. And injecting a hungry 18-year-old who may take your spot could be the wake-up call that pushes everyone forward.

Think about it. Remember what happened to Sidney Crosby when he got young, hard-working linemate Jake Guentzel? He won a second Stanley Cup. Not to mention the duo last year saw Guentzel net 40 goals and Crosby reach the century mark for the first time since 2014.

And Legare? He has a lot of the hallmarks of players that have made Evgeni Malkin successful. He’s got that Hornqvist and Kunitz-Esque tenacity with a lot fewer miles on the skates. And maybe he isn’t NHL-ready. And perhaps this team is too deep for him to stick all year, but with the ink freshly dried on his ELC, Why not at least try?