After three stints in the AHL - one of them an entire season - Matt Puempel broke through to the NHL level in late February last season.
Though his usage was limited, playing only three games with more than nine minutes of ice time, Puempel did manage to tally a couple goals and add an assist in 13 games. Appearing anywhere from the top two lines to the fourth, Puempel did manage to hold his own. Finishing the season with a 54.5% Corsi rating and 53.8% shots for (all at even strength), he was reliable.
And that's exactly what the Senators' bottom six would need next season if he should earn a roster spot come October.
Puempel's year was cut short due to a high ankle sprain suffered in March. It was initially looking to be four to six weeks for recovery but with the offseason quickly approaching, there was no rush. The team recommended Puempel take his time.
And by early July, things were going as planned.
"I'm actually impressed with how strong and how good it feels. It probably bugged me until the middle of May with all the workouts and the rehab. I've been working out on it. The recovery is different for everybody. With a high ankle sprain, the ligaments inside have to heal and I have no restrictions on it now." - Matt Puempel. Ottawa Sun. July 2, 2015.
Healthy as can be come training camp, where does the 22-year-old slot in?
It would be more than a fair assessment to say Puempel is going to have enough impact to make the opening day roster out of camp. How often he's going to play is another question.
The Senators' fourth line and extras are a tossup at this point. On one hand, there are a few young, unproven players like Puempel, Alex Chiasson and Shane Prince that will most definitely be pushing a handful of their teammates for a spot in the bottom six. But it's absolutely uncertain how the under performing veterans - Chris Neil, Zack Smith and Colin Greening - will be dealt with.
And for some reason, I feel we should also add in Milan Michalek to the list of possible press box attendees.
With the options Ottawa has in the upcoming season, I'd love to see Puempel play 40-plus games. But if I had to guess, I'd say under 30.
With Ottawa's resiliency to keep their seemingly more unreliable players around - Greening is still a Senator, Zack Smith played on the top line when he came back from injury last season and Chris Neil made more than one appearance in the playoffs - Puempel is going to have to impress like never before to play regularly.
But it's not the end of the world if he's held back again this year. He's 22. We've seen a lot of good things in the past 365 days.
Veteran's contracts will expire, certain players will continue to falter and spots will open up. Just like his ranking on the Top 25 Under 25, Puempel's play is trending upwards as well.
It's just a matter of time before we see him each and every game.