As far as forward Emile Poirier was concerned, the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center in New Jersey was just a day where he may or may not have had a chance to become a draft pick of a NHL team.
Though he'd had a successful major junior career, and NHL Central Scouting had him consistently rising in their top-40 projections that year, Poirier simply didn't expect it.
"I was just thinking I was going there with all my family and my friends and it was just going to be a good weekend to enjoy," he said. "And then I end up going that high and so I was really happy; it ended up a good weekend."
The Montreal native was the second of three first-round picks of the Calgary Flames in 2013, selected at No. 22 with a pick that had been previously acquired from the St. Louis Blues in the trade for defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
's 21 points are good for eighth in AHL rookie scoring and leads Adirondack. (Photo: Andy Camp)
Poirier returned to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for his final season in 2013-14, leading the Gatineau Olympiques with 43 goals, 44 assists and 87 points in 63 games. He made his professional debut in the American Hockey League at the end of last season, with two goals and two assists in two regular-season games and one goal in three games in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Now a rookie with the Adirondack Flames, Poirier's production continues to impress those around him.
"We're starting to see Emile's habits change. He's starting to learn how to play the pro game," Adirondack coach Ryan Huska said. "He's not turning as many pucks over, [and] he's doing a better job of managing the puck. I think because of that, he's becoming a guy that's harder to play against and he's gaining confidence at this level."
Huska cites Poirier's past 10-12 games as a chunk of time that has caught his eye and the eyes of his coaching staff. The 20-year-old's offensive abilities have never been in doubt, but his play away from the puck and his on-ice responsibility are areas that, when worked hard at, complete a player's game.
After going five games without a point, Poirier has five goals and four assists in his past 11 games, including three game-winning goals and three multipoint games in that span. His 21 points are good for eighth in AHL rookie scoring and lead Adirondack.
"I like to generate offensively, and I like to be a factor on the ice," Poirier said. "On the forecheck, create some chances. … Even if it's a small detail, like finishing a check, that's pretty much what I do."
Parallel to his on-ice transition, Poirier's off-ice development is coming along nicely too. Living with fellow rookie Ryan Culkin, they are two of nine first-year players on the Adirondack roster, which gives them a solid support system as they navigate the ups and downs of professional life.
"They often talk about the meals that they cook for each other, and they're learning," Huska said. "The great part about the American Hockey League is that they get an opportunity to learn and make a few mistakes while they're young and hopefully be better for it down the road."
When rosters for the 2015 AHL All-Star Classic were announced earlier this week, Poirier and goaltender Joni Ortio were named the Adirondack Flames representatives. Again, Poirier's humble outlook on the skillset so many others love to point out played a factor in his reaction to the honor.
"My coach told me after practice. I was pretty happy about it," he said. "For sure, I was kind of surprised. I wasn't planning on having a chance to play out there."
Huska, who is working day in and day out with Poirier on molding his game and becoming that hard-working player the Calgary organization embodies, immediately offers reasons why Poirier's inclusion makes sense.
"He's one of those guys that tends to find the areas where the pucks are going to be, and he puts himself in a good position to shoot. He's got a great shot when he does let it go," Huska said. "He's a deceiving skater. I would bet most defensemen in our conference know who he is and when he's on the ice because they have to be on their toes when he's out there because he skates very, very well."
The AHL All-Star Classic takes place Jan. 25-26 in Utica, N.Y., and like the draft two years ago it'll be another experience for Poirier to enjoy. But after that, it's back to business for the young wing if he hopes to add his name to the list of hundreds of AHL all-stars who have gone on to the NHL.
"I need to play my game consistently every night. I need to bring that to the table every game," he said. "Never take a shift or a day off. That's the biggest thing that's going to help me going up."
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