2011 NHL Draft Prospects: No. 28 Matthew Puempel

Nothing like an untimely injury to mess you up in your draft year. Just ask Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Brett Connolly, who suffered a season-ending hip injury just in time for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. However, it didn’t affect the scouts’ readings of his game, and he was ranked third – and taken sixth overall.

Peterborough Petes left wing Matthew Puempel dealth with similar problems this season, in which season-ending hip surgery hindered the end of his season, and caused his Petes to miss the playoffs by just three points.

“It was really tough at the start when I learned I needed surgery,” Puempel told NHL.com. “Our team was in a playoff spot at the time and we were battling hard, but we missed out.”

“I’m a lot more positive about it all now,” he said. “I battled through that adversity and, when you’re at the ultimate low, things can’t get any worse. I’m kind of looking forward to getting back and walking, and shortly after getting into more energetic rehabilitation and then being able to return to the ice sometime in June.”

But like the situation with Connolly, the hockey world understood how much of an impact Puempel can have on his team.

“At this point, a season-ending injury won’t affect our opinion (of Puempel),” NHL Central Scouting’s Chris Edwards told NHL.com in late February. “We have more than enough viewings on him. I have 14 viewings. He will be checked over at the (NHL Scouting) Combine (May 29-June 4) by the doctors and as long as it is not career-ending, it should not make much of a difference.”

On the ice, the 6-foot, 190-pound Puempel has been successful in almost every aspect. With 64 points in his rookie Ontario League season and 69 points in his sophomore campaign, scouts have labeled him as a talented goal scorer. His hockey sense is arguably his best quality, as by watching him, it’s incredible to see the way he reads the play and anticipates what the other nine skaters are going to be doing before it happens.
However, scouts have clearly noticed the hole in his defensive game – the game that led him to a minus-33 rating on one of the worst teams in the OHL.

“My game is getting to the net and winning crease battles, going hard on the forecheck and creating turnovers,” Puempel said in an interview with ESPN.com.

“Scouts say that it’s a pretty fair reading of his game — a lot of juniors are better with the puck than without it,” said ESPN.com writer Gare Joyce. “With Puempel it’s the other way around. He creates his scoring chances by skating hard without the puck and getting into the dirty areas of the ice. For scouts, it’s something that shows through with more frequent viewing.”

“A smart player, first and foremost, and that’s not a knock,” an Ontario-based scout said this week. “He’ll play at the next level — there’s no doubt about that. It’s just a question of what his high end is. Is he creative enough to be a first-liner? A second-liner? Based on what he did as an underager you can’t rule anything out.”

“I think Matt just needs to continue to find a complete game and he made great strides in that direction,” Peterborough coach Mike Pelino told NHL.com. “I think throughout his whole youth, he was such a natural scorer. This year we’ve got him killing penalties and playing in key defensive situations, primarily to give him the opportunity to develop in those areas. As he continues to round out his complete game, he’ll continue to be that much more effective.”

“Puempel cites getting bigger and physically stronger as two aspects of his game he wants to improve upon as he develops,” said The Hockey News columnist Ryan Kennedy. “But with his big frame it’s hard to see how much else needs to be done. The fact he has some pretty good NHL mentors tells you all you need to know about the power forward game the youngster likes to play.”

Alan Bass, a writer for The Hockey News and THN.com, is the author of The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed The NHL Forever. He has worked for the Philadelphia Flyers’ Fan Development department, going to schools throughout the tri-state area to teach about fitness and the importance of teamwork. He is the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College Division II hockey team as well. You can contact him at Alanbasswriting@aol.com.

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