Although he has little NHL experience, Matt Puempel holds a significant spot in the Ottawa Senators organization. Drafted in the first round (24th overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Puempel was one of three players drafted in that round. It was the beginning of a rebuild that would dramatically change the look of this team. While Mika Zibanejad, also drafted in that first round, has found his place on the Sens' roster, Puempel has yet to do the same.
Matt Puempel began playing regularly for the Binghamton Senators in 2013-14. That year, he would get 48 points (30G, 18A) in 74 games. He would follow that up with 32 points (12G, 20A) in 51 games the next season. But this season, he made a huge improvement in points per game, scoring 24 points (13G, 11A) in 29 games. That's an average of .83 points per game, up from .63 the previous season. It looks like he's beginning to trend in the right direction.
But as previously mentioned, he hasn't spent much time with the big club yet. In 27 NHL games so far, he's managed only 5 points (3G, 2A). Now, it's important to keep in mind that he was playing limited minutes during these games, averaging about 10-14 minutes per night. Playing on the bottom-six, he also hasn't had the chance to play with the team's top players. So it's difficult to judge what he is really capable of in the NHL based in this small sample size.
Puempel is coming to the end of his three-year, entry-level contract, which has a cap hit of $863,333 per year. Given his limited time in the NHL, and improvement in play at the AHL level, it's safe to say he will probably see a slight increase in pay. Management is still trying to determine exactly where Puempel fits in on this team.
Whether or not he has a regular spot in the line-up next year depends on what the team does with Shane Prince and David Dziurzynski. In a perfect world, we would see Puempel and Prince fill the bottom-six, left-winger role. At the age of 23, it's time to determine what Matt Puempel can do in the NHL. So I think the Sens will sign him to a two-year contract, worth approximately $1.8 million ($900,000/year AAV). This would be a decent bridge deal, giving him time to prove his worth. It's a slight increase in pay from what he's making right now, but a short enough term that we still have time to determine what exactly his role could be in the NHL.
Of course, with a salary this low-risk, the Sens may add a year or two to his contract. Depending on what Puempel's team wants, maybe some extra term will keep them happy. Given his limited NHL time, I can't see them pushing back too much, but the first-round-pick bargaining chip is always worth more than we think. I'm not saying it will happen, but I think it's a small enough salary that management might consider it to keep a player with this kind of potential on the roster.
Puempel is not the most high-profile RFA the Sens are going to see this summer (you may have heard of a player named Mike Hoffman), so I imagine they will try to re-sign him pretty quickly in order to move onto deals that might take a little more time to work out.