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Silver Nuggets: Letting 'young players play', asset management, and Matt Puempel

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After Shane Prince was traded, I'm sure Matt Puempel wasn't expecting to only play in three of the next 10 games after being called up from Binghamton. Granted, the Ottawa Senators management and coaching staff can quickly point to Puempel's two points in 16 games this season as a reason for his scratching, but are they doing everything they can to maximize his performance? Is Puempel going to be the next skilled 2011 pick to find himself shipped out of Ottawa?

To begin, let's briefly revisit Matt Puempel's career to get an accurate representation of the type of player that he is. It starts with his shot - the skill that has made Puempel a three-time 30 goal scorer in the OHL and a 30 goal scorer in the AHL.

Although he never *dominated* the OHL, Puempel won major awards, including the 2009-10 OHL Rookie of the Year, and finished his career with 1.09 PPG between two powerhouse teams, the Peterborough Petes and the Kitchener Rangers. Before the 2011 draft, Bob McKenzie's annual survey of scouts put Puempel as the 27th ranked player, with NHL Central Scouting rating up at 28th and International Scouting Services having him at 29th. All-in-all, a first-round player:

TSN Scout Grant McCagg:
A 33-goal season in 2009-10 netted him OHL Rookie of the Year honours, and high hopes from the scouts. On his way to 40+ goals when a hip injury sidelined him in late February. Strengths - Elusive skater with quick moves and gifted hands. Has a goal scorer's mentality and release, always dangerous in the offensive zone, adept at intercepting passes. Weaknesses - needs work on his defensive game, both effort-wise and positionally. Has to learn to work harder on a nightly basis, can't just get by on talent alone. Short stride, must work on top-end speed. NHL Upside - Things won't come so easily at the next level - has the offensive skill to play a top-six role but will have to earn it.

The Senators scouting staff, just having picked twice at #6 (Zibanejad) and #21 (Noesen) clearly liked Puempel a lot, and traded their two of their three second-round picks (#35 - Jurco; #48 - Ouellet) to Detroit for pick #24, which they used to select Puempel. Greg Royce, the Sens OHL scout at the time, and now the Head of Amateur Scouting for Tim Murray's Buffalo Sabres really liked Puempel -- he was clearly successful in getting the team to trade up for him.

After a lengthy suspension and another injury forced him to only play 30 games after he was drafted, Randy Lee commented that the organization was worried that they made a mistake in drafting him. That quickly changed after this rookie season in the AHL, where Puempel was the league's second leading rookie goal scorer (after Ty Rattie of the St. Louis Blues) with 30 goals in 74 games [in 2014, Puempel was 12th in our T25U25 series]. Afterwards, Lee mentioned that Puempel's offense exceeded expectations, and coach Luke Richardson loved Puempel's 'grit'. I believe that this willingness to go to dirty areas and play tough was one of the reasons why the organization consistently valued Puempel above the more-skilled Prince. In his rookie year, he fought 8 times and compiled 94 penalty minutes, while also playing some games on a checking line with Jean-Gabriel Pageau to develop his defensive game. As you can see below, Puempel's numbers have either been very close to, or below Prince's with the exception of this rookie year, and I think that it's his "grit" that has made him last longer in Ottawa.

Some supplemental evidence to support this? Despite his game taking a step back from his rookie year, he was called up over Prince, the BSens leading scorer, to support the Sens during the stretch run last year. In addition, it seems like the Senators would like their young players playing a "hard, heavy" game, choosing to call up players like David Dziurzynski, Max McCormick, and Nick Paul over Eric O'Dell and Cole Schneider [while scratching the aforementioned Prince].

What has Puempel done with this opportunity?

Puempel 1415

Puempel 1516

If the difference between 2014-15 and 2015-16 wasn't clear to you before, let these images show you. Puempel, like the majority of Senators players, went from being a solid possession player, even alongside 'meh' teammates in Alex Chiasson and David Legwand in 2014-15 (top image - graph 1 and 3) to struggling in 8 games with Mika Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan earlier this season - both in terms of shots and production (bottom image - graph 1 and 3). I don't want to *conclude* that Dave Cameron's systems are the problem here, but the discrepancy here is a worrying sign. It is, however, also symptomatic of the type of player Puempel is -- I just don't think he fits well with Bobby Ryan, who's a similar type of player: great shot, worked on his defensive game, but can't individually generate possession like a Mike Hoffman can.

Not playing consistently surely doesn't help this either, which is why many fans and analysts are confused with Puempel's recent scratching or sub-10 minutes of ice-time. As a player who's currently 42nd in PPG among those who have played 1/4 (19gms) of AHL season and 20th in shots/gm, Puempel really doesn't have much else to show in the AHL. Yes, he hasn't dominated like top prospects who become top-six NHL forwards, but with a late first round pick ranked on the border of being a second rounder, Puempel might not have reached the "top-six" pinnacle anyways. That doesn't excuse the Sens management and coaching staff for not playing Puempel to his strengths, perhaps alongside a strong possession player in Jean-Gabriel Pageau who can create space for him through the middle. Instead, Scott Gomez was signed to provide "veteran depth" for a team that's in need of identifying what they currently have and what they need to get, and this has minimized Puempel's playing time.

The last two tweets are damning to Dave Cameron. For a team outside of the playoffs, there's *no benefit* to playing a veteran centre like Gomez. He's not going to be back next year! Even playing Alex Chiasson, who you've had 60+ games to see if you'd want to re-sign, or Nick Paul, who's 20 and on a two-way contract, makes no sense from an asset management perspective. For a tweener like Puempel, who's put up decent OHL numbers, 2.5 pro seasons in Binghamton, and is currently an RFA at the end of the year, this is your shot to try him with players who you think he can succeed with so your organization can decide whether he's worth re-signing next year. If not, you risk running into another Shane Prince situation, where it was clear that the Senators didn't want to give him a chance despite being a top-three scorer in Binghamton for his last two years. Prince ended up requiring waivers this year, so stayed on the NHL roster [Puempel requires waivers next year] but ended up being packaged with a 7th round pick to have another shot in the dark with a 3rd rounder. For a team like Ottawa who can't spend a lot, maximizing your return on any asset in the organization -- scouts, hockey operations, prospects, players -- can go a long way in helping you compete against the best.

Instead, you have an organization with an expectation for Puempel and [prior] Prince to establish themselves as NHL regulars, but fail to cultivate this due to an ineffectual coaching staff. Assuming the team re-signs Mike Hoffman, which isn't a certainty at this point, the NHL roster is going to look very similar in 2016-17, barring a trade:

Let us know what you think about Puempel in the poll and comments below!

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Sens Links

  • Four Sens games and three BSens games to recap! First, your game coverage from last Friday's stinker against Buffalo. [Silver SevenSensChirpOttawa Citizen]
  • Next, your game coverage last Saturday's triumph over the Montreal Canadiens, including a draw-cap from Steph! [Silver SevenWTYKYSensChirpOttawa Citizen]
  • Unfortunately, things didn't go so well against the East-leading Capitals. [Silver SevenSensChirpOttawa Citizen]
  • Or the New York Islanders.. [Silver SevenSensChirpOttawa Citizen]
  • The BSens are on a three-game win streak! But had under 20 shots in regulation in two of the games.. [Silver Seven - v. Syracusev. Rochesterv. Utica]
  • Who else is on tap for this week? Anaheim on the weekend. [WTYKY]
  • One bit of roster news from this week is that Patrick Wiercioch's upper-body injury may keep him out for the season. Nichols penned a piece on how this essentially means that we may have seen his last game in a Senators uniform. [6th Sens]
  • Most of the Sens buzz this week comes from their owner, Eugene Melnyk. Callum transcribed his comments from a press conference verbatim, and Nichols added his thoughts with FOUR Melnyk speaking appearances this week. The Citizen recapped most of the key comments in two articles if you're short on time! [Silver Seven, 6th Sens - CTC PresserTSN1200TSN Pre-gamePTS, Ottawa Citizen - ChangesBlameSportsnet]
  • A big takeaway from Melnyk's appearances? Dave Cameron is on thin ice. [Ottawa Citizen]
  • Trevor and Ross asked you for your questions, and answered them in this edition of the Silver Seven Mailbag. Given the time of the year, many were focused on looking ahead to next season. [Silver Seven]
  • Former GM John Muckler reminded us just how much we dislike him by weighing in on the controversial Chara vs. Redden decision, Marian Hossa, and Paul Coffey comparisons for Erik Karlsson. [6th Sens]
  • Is Daniel Alfredsson as Sens GM a possibility once Murray steps down? Given what's happening in Vancouver and what happened in Edmonton, I hope not (love you though, Alfie). [Ottawa Citizen]
Other Links

  • I've talked about data from the Passing Project in this space before. Now, you can play with this visualization tool and come to your own conclusion! [Hockey-Graphs]
  • Which defensemen are the best at exiting the zone? HI ERIK KARLSSON (on this note, check out the McKeen's article on some more evidence that supports Norris #3) [SportsnetMcKeen's Hockey]
  • Sean McIndoe wades into the Norris talk with a great breakdown on whether voters have snubbed Drew Doughty. Like most things regarding the 'old boys club' in hockey media, they turn out to be wrong. [Sportsnet]
  • Last Karlsson article of the week comes from the excellent Carolyn Wilke, who goes through the "do you have to sacrifice offense to be good at defense" myth. [Today's Slapshot]
  • A great piece on Braden Holtby's fantastic season and exceptional goalie mindset. [The Globe & Mail]
  • Does finishing last guarantee Auston Matthews this year? The quick answer is no, but the actual answer is a bit shocking. [TSN]
  • The Senators have an ultra-aggressive penalty kill. Have we seen units like this in the past and do they generally pay off? Matt Cane explains. [Hockey-Graphs]
  • Your weekly edition of 30 Thoughts [Sportsnet]
  • Your end-of-Nuggets audio courtesy of Episode 3 of 'That's what she said!" where Michaela and Shalia talk about the end of the Senators season, expansion draft scenarios, the Clarkson Cup, and the Hart Trophy. [TSN1200]
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Thanks for reading!