Matt Puempel Needs To Take The Next Step Forward


Matt Puempel was drafted almost four years ago in the first round by Ottawa, and he has been a top prospect in the system for a while now. He’s had some injury troubles, but he has always had lots of potential to be a 30+ or at least 20+ goal scorer in the NHL. However, at the age of 22 he’s running out of time.

22 is still young, but with forwards there isn’t as much leeway as there would be with a defenseman and especially not a goalie. With forwards, if you aren’t producing then the coaches can pretty much tell that you won’t be good enough. This isn’t supposed to be a slight towards Puempel, but the fact is that he needs to improve his game if he wants to be given a shot with the Senators.

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Normally a player of his caliber would need to play very well in the AHL in order to get a call-up. Shane Prince was extremely productive with the Binghamton Senators, putting up 65 points in 72 games which led the team. That is the kind of point production Puempel needs to have next year, because I would be surprised if he made the team out of camp next year.

The odd thing is that despite Prince’s better play in the AHL (and NHL in my opinion), he only got two games in the NHL while Puempel got 13. However, just because Puempel played more games with the big club doesn’t mean he’s won a spot. Both of those players don’t have a spot in the top 12, and they need to continue their positive growth in Binghamton.

I am seeing lots of improvement from Prince, but Puempel is the one I am worrying about, hence why I am writing about him specifically. Bryan Murray seemed to like him and they kept him up until he was injured and out for the year. He did some impressive things, but a lot of the time he was invisible, making him seem not so essential.

In the OHL as a rookie he scored 33 goals in 59 games, which is quite spectacular. He was touted as a top 10 prospect going into his draft year, but an injury made his stock fall despite his slight uptick in production. Here is his stats page:

The worrying thing is that the next two seasons in the OHL he wasn’t quite as good in terms of points per game. In 2011-12 he scored 33 points in 30 games, but that was a lower points/game mark than his previous two seasons. Then with Kitchener in his final season he scored a whopping 35 goals, but his measly 12 assists put him under a point a game for the first time.

Now of course, he missed quite a lot of time over the course of his junior career. I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for some of that. Plus, 35 goals in 51 games is still impressive, although his lack of assists is a bit alarming.

Then ever since his OHL career ended, he has been fine but not amazing in the AHL. In his rookie pro season he scored 30 goals, but once again the 18 assists make his point totals look not too great. This past season he was on a slightly worse pace, but oddly enough he ended with eight more assists than goals which was by far the most amount of assists he had compared to goals in his career.

Mar 13, 2015; Uniondale, NY, USA; Ottawa Senators left wing Matt Puempel (26) high fives the bench after scoring during the second period against the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

If you look at his numbers as a whole, there is a bit of a downward trend. His draft year in the OHL was his best, but after that his next two junior seasons were a bit underwhelming despite the solid goal totals. Now in the AHL he has been an average producer, but he needs to take that next step. Prince had a 65 point season, which is quite the jump.

Similarly before Prince, Mike Hoffman dominated the AHL by leading the league with 67 points in 51 games. Mark Stone also 41 points in 37 games, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau had 44 points in 46 games. The recurring theme with Senators call-ups that become regulars is that they get close to a point a game in the minors and then show that they are ready to stay in Ottawa.

I believe Prince is at that point, because by all accounts he was Binghamton’s best player last year, or at least best forward. I really don’t think Puempel is at that point just yet, and next year he will really have to prove to the coaches and front office that he belongs in the NHL.

I wouldn’t say next year is now or never for Puempel, but it’s getting close

He most likely will not make the team right away, but the first step is to be better in the AHL and take that next small step forward. Then he has to take advantage of an inevitable call-up mid-season. So many Senators players have done this in the recent past, but it remains to be seen if Puempel is the next player to do it.

Personally I like Prince as a better player overall, and think he should get a shot first. I doubt Puempel will be able to be a bottom six player, because he’s a pure sniper. Meanwhile, Prince is better defensively and is more flexible to move around in the lineup. The problem is Ottawa is pretty set with their top six forwards, but if he takes the next step then maybe he will force the teams hand to give him more playing time.

I wouldn’t say next year is now or never for Puempel, but it’s getting close. Another average or sub-par season in the AHL and other prospects may pass him on the depth chart. I hope he can do it next year.

Next: 2015 NHL Draft Profiles: Vince Dunn