When a player is selected in the first round of the Western Hockey League’s annual bantam draft, there are always high expectations.
Drafted ninth overall at the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, there’s no exception for Jared Legien when it comes to expectations.
“He probably started with really high expectations on himself and all that other stuff with being a high pick [in the bantam draft],” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, Monday afternoon. “[He had] a disappointing year last year and all those things — it’s a lot of pressure to put on a young man.
“I think he’s kind of put that behind him now and is focused on what he can do to get better. We’ve started to see some signs of growth in his game. Simple hard work is what’s helped him.”
After 33 games, the native of Pilot Butte, Sask., tallied the first goal of his WHL career — the product of hard work — Saturday night against the Medicine Hat Tigers.
For Legien, it was a long-awaited marker after first hearing his name called at the 2013 bantam draft and suiting up for his first-career WHL regular-season game as a 16-year-old last season.
“It felt good. I’ve been waiting for it for a while,” Legien said Tuesday. “It was nice to get one. Too bad we couldn’t get a win with it.
“It was nice to be able to contribute and give our team a chance to win, but it just didn’t really work out.”
Though the celebration of an individual achievement was dampened by his team’s 6-3 loss to the Tigers, the hope is the milestone will serve as a stepping stone for the former Moose Jaw General as he strives to help fill the offensive void created with the news that right wing Jaedon Descheneau has been lost for the season due to shoulder surgery.
“I’m just trying to make the simple plays — puck up ice always and try not to go back as much,” Legien said. “Last year, I think I tried to make things too difficult for myself. This year, I’m doing a better job at just simplifying.
“The league is a lot bigger and faster than you expect. Everyone is better. There’s no huge gaps between great players and average players — everyone is pretty equal. The speed and physicality of the league is definitely one of the things you don’t really expect.”
In 13 games with the Ice last season, Legien posted one assist before being returned to the Midget ‘AAA’ Generals, where he rounded out his campaign with 10 goals and 19 points in 29 games.
This season, the Saskatchewan product has been a mainstay in the Ice lineup, registering one goal and two points in 20 games.
“For him and anyone else in our lineup, the big issue is don’t try to play other than who you are and what you do well,” Pierce said. “I think sometimes guys want to fill roles of guys that we’re missing, like Luke [Philp], Jaedon [Descheneau] and Zak [Zborosky].
“We don’t have those players in our lineup right now and you’re not just going to reinvent yourself and be that guy. You’ve got to continue to do what is within your realm of possibility and give yourself the best chance of success.
“[Jared] can’t change anything. He’s just got to continue to keep the game simple and smart. That goes for everyone of our guys and the opportunities will be there.”
Legien and the Ice get back to action Tuesday when they welcome the Everett Silvertips to Cranbrook.
If there’s ever been a time for Legien to do what he does best, it’s now as the Ice will be without the aforementioned weapons Philp (upper body, day to day), Descheneau (shoulder, season) and Zborosky (lower body, week to week).
Also out of the lineup Tuesday will be defenceman Troy Murray, who was suspended two games for a cross-checking major incurred Saturday night during the first period of Kootenay’s 6-3 loss to the Tigers.
Puck drop between the Ice and Silvertips is set for 7 p.m. at Western Financial Place.