Puempel rounding out his game in AHL rookie season

By Tony Androckitis

Matt Puempel - Binghamton Senators

Photo: Binghamton Senators forward and Ottawa Senators prospect Matt Puempel shared the team goal-scoring lead with Mike Hoffman in the 2013-14 regular season (courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Icon SMI)

There is no doubting Ottawa Senators forward prospect and Binghamton Senators' co-leading goal scorer Matt Puempel’s ability to score goals. The three-time 30-goal scorer at the OHL level was Ottawa’s first round pick (24th overall) in 2011 and, as Binghamton head coach Luke Richardson said several times, Puempel is a natural goal scorer.

“That's just been his trade wherever he's gone,” Richardson said to this writer after a recent game in which Puempel tallied two goals.

“It's pretty unique to see,” Richardson said, adding “the puck finds him and he finds the net. It's a great combination.”

Puempel finished his regular season tallying his 30th goal of the season in Binghamton’s season finale. In 74 games, Puempel tallied 48 points (30G-18A). He can now add the AHL to his 30-goal a season resume.

Growing Pains

Puempel didn’t light up the score sheet right out of the gate, often playing behind several big-name forwards who have moved up to the NHL this season, such as Mike Zibanejad and Mike Hoffman.

“I feel like it's been a little bit of everything,” Puempel said of his journey so far in his rookie season. “I started off the season for the first few months maybe adjusting and not getting the ice time you're used to coming out of juniors, which is expected.”

After a rocky beginning to his first full season as a pro, Puempel and the Binghamton coaching staff worked on his play on the defensive aspects of things to help ease him along in his adjustment to the pro-style game.

“Here, you're playing against a lot older guys and you have to find ways to adjust,” Puempel said. “Fortunate enough, the coaching staff and I have discussed and we talk about video every day in order to be a better player, and overall we'll be a better team.”

Puempel continues to become more of a well-rounded hockey player and is learning that working from the defensive zone out increases both puck possession and offensive chances. He was also quick to credit both the coaching staff and his teammates for a lot of his success this season.

“With a lot of depth here and different guys in different spots in different situations and I think those, in the long run, make you a better player, and that was the conversation coach and I had over that time of the season and I think it's paid off at this point here.”

Coach Richardson mimicked Puempel’s responses and has given Puempel rave reviews this season, especially intrigued by his willingness to learn and engage the staff with questions to help round out his game.

“I think he's worked out his defensive game and he continues to,” Richardson said. “Even in the last two nights he comes in and he's not afraid to ask you about his mistakes before we even go and get him. He looks at them on video and you can see he's not happy with that when things don't go right defensively, so that's the real sign of a complete hockey player because he knows, I think, that naturally he's got the talent and he's just, he's a goal scorer. He's a natural goal scorer.”

“He wants to become a better hockey player and that's the best and most interesting thing for us coaches to see,” Richardson said.

Puempel Finishing Strong

With guys up in Ottawa and forward Stephane Da Costa out with an injury in Binghamton, Puempel was given an increased role and played well in his increased role. Having the added pressure of filling a more important role on the team didn't seem to faze Puempel, however.

“I wouldn't call it pressure,” Puempel said, adding “If it is, it's pressure that I'm willing to have but it's more of just a challenge. I've always loved to score goals, I've always been known as that kind of player.”

The Senators are playing the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in a first round, best-of-five series, with Binghamton looking to avenge last year’s sweep by the Penguins, which also came in the first round of last year's playoffs (ed. note – that series is currently tied, 1-1). To say Puempel and the Senators are ready for the challenge that awaits them is an understatement as the two teams have built quite a rivalry in the last 12 months.

“You can tell the last five or six games have been real tight checking, a lot of one goal games and that's what we are going to expect this time of year,” Puempel said. “That's when good teams have to show up.”

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