Draft prospect Puempel hopes for June return to ice
Mike G. Morreale
After undergoing successful hip surgery last week, top 2011 Entry Draft prospect Matt Puempel of the Peterborough Petes is prepared to do whatever it takes to get back on the ice.
While the 18-year-old forward would prefer that return to be sooner than later, he is a realist.
"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."
The news of losing Puempel 11 days before the start of Ontario Hockey League playoffs was a huge hit for both the player and his teammates. Peterborough finished three points out of a playoff spot.
"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."
At the recommendation of his agent, Pat Morris, Puempel's surgery, at The Steadman Clinic in Vail, Co., on March 18 was performed by Dr. Marc Philippon. Philippon is one of the world's leading orthopedic hip surgeons.
"I'm a lot more positive about it all now. 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." -- 2011 Draft prospect Matt Puempel
"They were unbelievable there," Puempel said. "I was, of course, hesitant when I first walked in, but after coming out of the elevator and seeing the jerseys of Mario Lemieux, Marian Gaborik and Alex Rodriguez in the offices, I was so relieved. Jeff Finger had surgery just before me on Friday and (actor) Channing Tatum was in rehab with me while there.
"It was a good experience. Obviously you wouldn't want that to happen, but I certainly can't complain. I can't feel any pain whatsoever … it's hard to believe I even had surgery. The only reminder is the stitches."
For now, Puempel rehabs twice a day, including a ride on the stationary bike for 40 minutes. He can walk using crutches and is hopeful that in five weeks he might be able to ditch the crutches.
The injury shouldn't hurt Puempel's draft value. The 6-foot, 196-pound left wing had a team-leading 34 goals (15 power-play goals) and 69 points in 55 games for Peterborough this season.
Puempel's situation is similar to Prince George Cougars forward Brett Connolly, a top prospect for the 2010 Entry Draft who played just 16 games last season due to nagging hip flexor injuries; the Tampa Bay Lightning selected him with the sixth pick of the Draft.
When NHL Central Scouting released its mid-term rankings in January, Puempel was No. 29 among North American skaters. Connolly was rated third on Central Scouting's final release last April -- moving up one rung from the mid-term ranking despite his injury.
Central Scouting's Chris Edwards doesn't believe the injury will hamper Puempel's draft value.
"At this point, a season-ending injury won't affect our opinion (of Puempel)," 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."
Matthew Puempel (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)
Puempel isn't sure if he'll be able to take part in any of the physical testing at the Combine. It all depends on how well his rehabilitation is going.
"I'll see where I'm at, then hopefully I can be a part of that somehow, but I've been advised not to rush because this part of the healing process is very important," Puempel said. "I've been through so much with it right now that I wouldn't feel comfortable rushing it. Everything's been successful so far so I can't see why I would change it at all."
Puempel became the youngest player in team history -- the Petes' first season was 1956-57 -- to score 33 goals in a season and he led all first-year OHL players with 64 points in 2009-10 en route to garnering OHL and CHL Rookie of the Year honors. Additionally, he proved to be quite the sharp-shooter during the shooting accuracy event at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Skills Competition in January -- knocking out four targets on five attempts for Team Cherry.
"When you can't finish a season a lot goes through your mind, but I don't think this will have any effect on my playing down the road," Puempel said. "I know I'll be back at 100 percent when I'm better and I would like to think the scouts won't hold this against me. Knowing who went through the same type of surgery I went through and how successful their recovery went, it is very reassuring.
"I'll be back to playing at 100 percent and I look forward to that. It'll be exciting."
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