Emile Poirier will be the first to admit his second American Hockey League go-round would be best described as a wild roller coaster ride of elation, frustration and everything in between.
With its share of highs and lows, and plenty of loops and turns, the second of three 2013 Calgary Flames first round picks – selected 22nd overall between Sean Monahan (6th) and Morgan Klimchuk (28th) – saw an upgrade in his defensive game but a downgrade in offensive production.
Best characterized as all part of the learning curve, says the 21-year-old forward prospect.
“Sure, I had some ups and downs through the season,” said Poirier, the youngest player named to the 2015 AHL All-Star Game. “But I learned a lot this year and I felt like I was getting better and better as the season wore on.”
Tasked with developing the Flames’ future, Stockton Heat head coach Ryan Huska agrees with Poirier’s self-evaluation.
“The challenge for a guy like Emile is really how he bounces back and comes back next year and how he treats his summer,” Huska said. “At the end of the day, that’s going to dictate where he ends up next year.”
Deemed as an offensive threat every time he steps on the ice, Poirier saw his numbers surprisingly decline from 42 points to 29 despite suiting up for five additional games.
“This past season was frustrating a little bit, but I just have to stay focused and continue to work hard,” he said.
Over his first two professional seasons in the AHL, though, Poirier has collected a respectable 71 points in 115 games.
Simply put, the kid can produce.
The Montreal native became a highly-touted prospect after amassing 90 goals and 197 points over three seasons with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Gatineau Olympiques, leading the team in scoring twice.
Though a potential offensive option for the Flames moving forward, already having the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett up front means that a more complete, two-way game is the youngster’s best bet of landing a full-time NHL job any time soon.
“Points were more difficult to come by this season for me, but I was working on my game away from the puck and I thought I improved a lot in that area,” Poirier said.
With the Flames hampered by injuries and eliminated from playoff contention, Poirier – along with winger Hunter Shinkaruk and defenceman Brett Kulak – was summoned as an emergency recall at the tail end of March. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound swift-skating forward was held scoreless with a minus-one rating in his abbreviated two-game stint.
Overall, the Montreal native has dressed for eight games over two seasons with the parent Flames, recording his first and only NHL point by setting up Mikael Backlund for a goal in March 2015 against Philadelphia.
“I was happy to get the call and it was a great opportunity to show what I could do,” Poirier said. “If there is one thing that I learned it’s that I have to have a good summer of training and come back as a player that is difficult to play against.”
Huska describes this off-season as “critical” for Poirier’s development.
“It can’t be us wanting it for him. It has to be him,” Huska said. “That really comes down to him putting in the work this summer, making sure he’s digging in, and then his skill set or his attributes can come out at that point and he can be the valuable player that we expect he can be.
“He’ll need to make sure he does everything he can to put himself in a good position to not just have a good year, wherever that may be, but he’s got to push people out of a job in Calgary.”