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Poulin and Legare pushing each other to be at their best

The childhood friends, who were drafted together, trained together in their native Quebec

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Before their first game at the 2019 Prospects Challenge on Friday against Boston, the Penguins' newest draft picks Sam Poulin and Nathan Legare were sitting at their neighboring locker stalls, just shaking their heads.

"When I saw the jerseys I just said to Sam, 'Can you imagine we're going to play with these jerseys on?'" Legare said. "A lot of legends have played with these - (Mario) Lemieux, (Jaromir) Jagr, (Sidney) Crosby. It's just special and for sure we just enjoyed that moment, and will remember that for life."

What made the experience even more special was that they got to do it together. 

The two have been friends since they were 7 years old, meeting for the first time when Poulin's father Patrick - who played over 600 NHL games - coached them on the same team (it was called the Wild, complete with red and green jerseys modeled after the NHL franchise).

From there, the now 18-year-olds either played together at Hockey Quebec and Team Canada tournaments, or played against each other, starting at Pee-Wee and going all the way up to major juniors. 

Poulin has played the last two seasons with the Sherbrooke Phoenix while Legare has been with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, and they try to keep in touch throughout the year.

"During the year, when I see that he has a hat trick in a game, I just text him and say 'Nice game,'" Legare said. "Stuff like that."

After their respective seasons ended, Poulin and Legare returned to their hometowns -Blainville and Saint-Eustache, respectively - which are about 15 minutes apart. They train together during the summers and went through all of the pre-draft activities together. 

So for them both to be drafted by Pittsburgh - Poulin in the first round (21st overall) and Legare in the third round (74th overall) - was surreal.

"At the Combine, we were together and we were talking about the teams that would maybe like to draft us and stuff like that," Poulin said. "We never would have imagined being drafted by the same team."

The two of them traveled to Pittsburgh together for prospect development camp at the end of June. When they returned home to Quebec to resume their training, it took on a new level of intensity.

They worked with former WBS and Pittsburgh strength and conditioning coach Stephane Dube, who co-owns a physical training facility in Boisbraind, Quebec. It's located at the Centre d'Excellence Sports Rosseau, the arena that houses the Blainville Boisbraind Armada of the QMJHL. 

Poulin and Legare trained there five days a week, starting on the ice downstairs before going upstairs for their workout.

"It was special because Sam trained with me," said Legare, who added that their group included Alexis Lafreniere, who's projected to be the first overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. 

With Poulin and Legare being such similar players - they are both power forwards who have strong offensive instincts along with plenty of character and compete - Dube told them he wanted them to work on what they needed to improve.

"For me, it was my explosion, so I worked a lot on my jumps and stuff like that," Legare said.

"The same for me," Poulin agreed. "We're two big bodies, and the game has gotten so quick lately that you've got to be quick. That was the main thing I was working on this summer too."

It wasn't all work and no play for the pair, who hung out away from the rink as well. Last summer, Poulin invited Legare and three other friends to his family's lake house, and this summer, they golfed together a few times.

"We're all right at golf," Poulin said with a laugh. "We could be better. We hung out with some other guys that were working out at the gym too. We're really good buddies, so it's fun to be around each other."

They again made the lengthy trek from Quebec to Pittsburgh together last week, going through the introduction meeting, dinner, physicals and fitness testing and practice before heading to Buffalo on Thursday.

Both Poulin and Legare were credited with goals in that first game, a 4-3 loss to the Bruins. They played on the same line in their second game, a 2-1 win over New Jersey on Saturday.

"We're maybe the youngest guys on the ice," Legare said. "We play against guys that are maybe 22 or 24 years old. We're not small, so we're lucky in that. But for sure we try to be strong on our feet and I think it's working."

After a summer of pushing each other, they feel more ready than ever to finish the Prospects Challenge on a strong note and make an impression at training camp.

"I think we just challenged each other and that just motivated us," Legare said. "To see Sam work hard, I want to beat him, he wants to beat me. We gave our best during the summer and this is why we're very ready for the main camp."

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