In the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, a vaunted one for the organization, Ottawa swapped two second round picks to Detroit for the twenty-fourth overall selection in the draft. That was no small value- the Senators had been awful all year, affording them the 35th pick. Moreover, they had sent Chris Kelly to the Bruins during the miserable campaign in exchange for one of the two seconds Ken Holland would make use of. Ottawa took Puempel at the 24th spot, a popular player in pre-draft rankings for his goal-scoring ability, speed and cannon of a shot. However, a reconstructive hip surgery during his draft year dropped his stock considerably. The Senators, perhaps spying a value pick at the position, made the move to add the Petes' sniper.Though it is little indication of who the Senators might have taken had they stayed pat in the 35th spot, Detroit took the flashy Thomas Jurco at the spot.
Matt Puempel was, in many ways, a lucky guy to be taken where he was. Mika Zibanejad was a slight surprise at sixth overall, and management shook up the board at the 21st spot, selecting Stefan Noesen. In the early summer, hockey news in Ottawa can whip up a serious frenzy. Puempel had the benefit of being the third player taken in the draft, permitted for the most part to go back to junior, recover, and do his thing. Which he did. In his first thirty games, he was three points above a point-per-game pace, with seventeen of them being goals. Albeit, his clip was actually marginally slower than his rookie and sophomore seasons, in which he surpassed the thirty-goal mark on both occasions, but he was producing on a struggling squad.
Then, in December, everything came off the rails. A suspension for a hit to the head was followed up by a serious blow dealt by Alex Gudbranson's elbow, which left Puempel sidelined for the remainder of the OHL season. Peterborough's dismal year allowed Puempel to get a chance at playing professional hockey for a short time with Binghamton. He scored one goal in nine games, but the most promising part of his debut was that he played at all- during his injury, news and updates on Puempel had been few and far between.
The Petes, looking to rebuild and start fresh with a young roster, sent Puempel to the Kitchener Rangers. Playing on the Rangers presented Puempel with an excellent opportunity. On the cusp of what would surely be his final junior season, he was healthy, and surrounded by a veritably stacked roster with a terrific chance to have a very strong and productive campaign before moving on permanently to professional hockey.
It was a pretty good year. For any OHLer, 35 goals is a pretty good year. Good enough, indeed, that Puempel was fourteenth in goal scoring, despite having missed a chunk of the season. His stat-line belies his scoring ability, as he only added twelve assists to get to fourty-five points, not enough points to crack the top 75 in league scoring. One can't help but feel that Puempel might have more to offer. Training camp, followed by a very likely stint in Binghamton, might be the best thing for Puempel's game. The biggest question that will dog a slightly undersized goal scorer in junior is whether that ability can translate into NHL production. Puempel was valued in draft rankings for his ability to score from almost anywhere, most importantly being able to finish on the doorstep and in the dirty areas. Holding his ground in the slot against NHL players will be a whole new challenge for the 6' sniper.
Matt Puempel has sat about steady in relation to his previous rankings in our Top 25 Under 25 series. For a full look at this year's Top 25 Under 25, be sure to click here. This year, however, will be the first of many big tests. With Mika Zibanejad enjoying an assuredly permanent role in the team's forward corps, and Stefan Noesen now a prospect of the Anaheim Ducks, attention will turn on the coming-of-age forward from Essex, Ontario. Senators fans will get their first long look at the young pro this coming fall, envisioning him in rosters seasons down the road from now. It will be a trek to get there- Puempel needs to be more than a one-dimensional scorer to secure a job in Ottawa. If not, he'd better be a darned good sniper. The early signs are tentatively positive, but the biggest test is on the horizon.