With the Penguins’ 2021-22 season coming to a quick ending in the first round of the playoffs, the Tribune-Review will offer Penguins A to Z, a player-by-player look at all 54 individuals signed to an NHL contract – including those whose deals do not begin until the 2022-23 season – with the organization, from mid-level prospect Niclas Almari to top-six winger Jason Zucker.
Position: Right winger
Weight: 208 pounds
2021-22 AHL statistics: 57 games, 16 points (seven goals, nine assists)
Contract: In the first year of a three-year entry-level contract with a salary cap hit of $789,167. Pending restricted free agent in the 2024 offseason.
Acquired: Third-round draft pick (No. 74 overall), June 22, 2019
Last season: There’s been a lot of anticipation surrounding Nathan Legare almost since the moment the Penguins drafted him three years ago.
In fact, they traded up to get Legare as they believed he had talent equivalent of a first-round pick then signed him to his entry-level contract roughly three months later.
After spending two prolific seasons at the junior level, Legare finally turned professional this past season and the highly-anticipated results were underwhelming.
Legare appeared in three preseason games last fall and was assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Oct. 8. Opening the American Hockey League season on the third line and on the Penguins’ top power-play unit, Legare did not score his first professional goal until his seventh game. His overtime score gave the Penguins a 4-3 road win against the Springfield Thunderbirds on Oct. 30.
The talented power forward only produced one more goal before being a healthy scratch for a 3-2 road win against the Hershey Bears on Jan. 9.
Legare seemed to rebound a bit from that scratch as he generated six points (three goals, three assists) in his next 10 games.
But by February, he became a frequent healthy scratch as he sat for 14 of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s final 38 games of the regular season. That included a hideous streak of six consecutive games in the stretch run of April.
After being scratched for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s first four games of the postseason, he dressed for the team’s final two playoff contests and generated two points (one goal, one assist).
The future: Obviously, after such a difficult first professional season, Legare needs to make some major steps forward in 2022-23.
He’s not the first player who ripped things up at the junior level and then had trouble adjusting to the professional game. Physically, he could make up for mistakes against teenagers in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. But against adults in the AHL, he can’t get away with cutting corners.
Legare needs to figure out the consistency and details — particularly on defense — that are required of being a professional on a day-to-day basis. The base skills required to become an impactful NHLer are there. He has scored touch and isn’t afraid to mix it up physically. And management appears to remain upbeat about his potential.
In order to realize that potential, he’ll need to take full advantage of the lessons provided by some considerable realizing pains he endured in his first professional season.
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .