The Ottawa Senators’ Matt Puempel has always been an offensive force on his team. And while he put 30 pucks in the net last year in the AHL, it took him awhile — and it took learning some lessons — to get there.
“I was trying to work through some adversity at the beginning of the year last year — I started on the third and fourth line, which was new to myself,” he said. “Once I got the opportunity, I was happy with how things went. Maybe I wasn’t expecting to get 30. I don’t want to set any expectations or limits on myself, but 30 was a lot — I’m happy with it.”
For someone who was used to playing on the top line in junior, limited ice and limited opportunities offered a learning experience.
“It is [tough to deal with], but it’s something I’ve never had to deal with during my career and I think it just makes you stronger down the road,” Puempel said. “You learn a lot through that and the coaching staff really helped me through it.”
It also made Puempel appreciate the opportunities he gets and the need to work diligently to capitalize on them.
“I think everyone has their own tools and everyone uses them in a different way. Being on the third and fourth line and being more of an offensive guy, you don’t have as many opportunities on the ice,” he said. “You’re used to always being on the power play. And it’s harder to score goals and that’s why you have a different job on the ice. Once you’re able to get that opportunity and start putting some pucks in, you get more confident, you shoot more, and you find a way to battle through things.
“It’s just keep working hard everyday because it’s a long season — it’s easy when things aren’t going your way to pack it in and get frustrated. I think it’s really helped my career starting the way it did last year. It wasn’t a negative at all — it’s just something I wasn’t used to and it was a challenge.”
The 2011 first round pick had a full season in Binghamton in 2013-14 and the experience, especially coming into the 2014 training camp, was helpful, he said.
“You feel more confident, more comfortable in your settings. Being in a couple, you really learn a lot from your settings,” he said. “Experience helps in the game of hockey. I’m fortunate to have some of that now at the American League level.
“Now it’s the start of pushing for an NHL start and just using what you’ve learned and putting it to good use.”
Puempel, who played in both Peterborough and Kitchener in the OHL, said participating in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rookie tournament in the home of the London Knights helped him see how he is tracking against his peers.
“It’s definitely a measuring stick. You have more experience than other players who are in junior, but you know what it’s like to be in that spot,” he said. “To go back a couple of years now, it’s a big eye opener. It’s a humbling experience. I remember my first year, I was playing against Jake Gardiner and guys like that — it’s kind of cool to be in that situation now.
“It doesn’t come easier, but you have more patience and more confidence in your game.”
Puempel added that he’s learned how — and when — to get the most out of his training regimen.
“I think the summers really help. It’s hard to prepare yourself during the year and get stronger because you’re on the ice so much. You just want to maintain what you have,” he said. “This summer I was able to really focus on my lower-body strength, stability, and stuff. I feel really good on the ice and my conditioning is as good as it’s ever been. That just makes the game easier and more natural.
“That’s something that Ottawa’s taught me and you learn from being a professional every day what you put your body through and how you have to take care of it. Rest is just as important as working out and maintaining stuff. That’s what helps the most.”
Puempel now wants to take that next step in his career progression and find himself playing in the nation’s capital.
“I don’t want to stray from my game too much. It’s easy to get excited and it’s easy to go out of your comfort zone,” he said. “I think you have to do what just got you there and let management figure out where you fit best in the lineup and where is best for your development.
“If they want you do certain things, you’re going to learn to do them and do whatever it takes to be in the NHL. You’ve wanted to be in the NHL every day since you were five years old, so that’s the way to go about it.”
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