Top 25 Under 25, no. 13: Matt Puempel
It's been a trying few seasons for Matt Puempel due to various injuries, but through it all he's remained consistent in one facet: Putting pucks in the net. If he can keep doing that, it won't be too long before he's playing in Ottawa.
Holding steady at number 13 on our Top 25 Under 25 listing is Kitchener Rangers forward Matt Puempel, the dynamic goal-scoring winger the Ottawa Senators selected with their third first-round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Left Wing / Ottawa Senators
Jan 24, 1993 (Age 20)
Although Puempel remains a highly touted prospect, his young career has been beset by injuries. Hip surgery during his draft year dropped him down in the draft to 24 overall, which worked out for the Sens but probably wasn't Puempel's first choice of fates. The next year he missed significant time due to a suspension and a concussion (although he was able to make his pro debut with Binghamton upon his return). And this year, he missed a couple months due to a shoulder injury that turned out to be far more serious than was initially thought.
Oddly enough, this year has been Puempel's least impressive so far in the OHL. With just 31P (23G, 8A) in 33GP, he's under point-per-game pace. But that's a bit deceptive; Puempel's been slumping since returning from his injury (just 2G, 1A in 7GP) and that's set his season totals back. On a team as good as Kitchener, expect his point totals to climb rapidly as he gets his timing back. He'll also take part in Kitchener's playoff run, and if that ends early enough, may re-join Bingo for theirs.
It's entirely possible that Puempel could evolve into something different, but right now he looks like a potential future top-six winger with big-time goal-scoring potential. The fact that he's a left winger works in his favour, since the Sens have a couple good young right wing (Jakob Silfverberg, Mark Stone) and centre (Mika Zibanejad, Mike Hoffman, Stephane Da Costa) prospects, but not as much in the way of natural left wingers. Taking a very optimistic long-term look, if Puempel can stay healthy and take the next steps in his development, he could look very good alongside Jason Spezza, who's always done well with snipers beside him.
In the immediate future, though, expect Puempel to finish out his OHL career this season, then step up to Binghamton for his first full pro season next year. He may end up making his NHL debut before too long, but given the development time his injuries have cost him, his first true NHL shot probably won't be until the 2014-15 season at the earliest.
But when he does make it to the bigs, as long as his development continues in the positive direction, he could end up looking like a real steal at 24 overall.