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2011 Draft Class: Matt Puempel

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
The pursuit of excellence is what has driven 18-year-old Matt Puempel throughout his career. Climbing the ranks in junior hockey was an ongoing challenge, and so too is the dream of lacing up his battle-tested skates for an NHL club someday soon.

In many respects, Puempel’s 28th-place ranking by NHL Central Scouting is a suitable reminder of the work and tireless discipline he put forth to achieve the next step in his already extensive career.

The 2010-11 season was a disappointing one from a team perspective. The OHL’s Peterborough Petes underachieved, collecting only 43 points in 68 games and missing out on the post-season action.

While Peterborough will most certainly be looking for a rebound season next year, Puempel believes his sophomore campaign was successful; especially when you consider that season-ending hip surgery limited him to only 55 games this year. 

"I was happy with my season and especially how the year began," Puempel said. "It ended with the injury, but that's something that I've got to learn to deal with. When you're playing in the NHL, these things happen all the time."

He appears to be making the best of the situation, but circumstance has only fueled his desire to improve.

"When you're competitive, you always want to do more. You're never going to be completely pleased with how you do personally -- you're always going to want to do more out there. It’s natural."

Puempel broke into the OHL in the 2009-10 season. While a learning curve was expected, he had immediate success in a league that challenges goal-scorers to discover new levels of compete and creativity. 33 goals and 59 points in only 55 games during his rookie campaign underlined a new page en route to his big league dream.

"I didn't even know what to expect with all the older guys, but Peterborough as an organization really helped me," Puempel explained. "Moving into a new house and all that was challenging. But when it's something you want to do and want to pursue, it's not really a sacrifice. It's more of a privilege and an opportunity. That’s how I took it."

According to Puempel, the adaptation and quick turnaround was a collaborative accomplishment.

"Every single thing you have to get used to, but I believe that I was working hard and it all came together like I wanted it to," he said. "I can't thank my teammates and the organization enough for helping me out."

The organization’s help went well beyond his off-ice requirements. In only two seasons with Peterborough, Puempel has achieved so much in terms of personal development. While the OHL’s scoring leaderboard will back his offensive credentials, a well-rounded style is still the goal for the 6’0" 190-pound winger.

"All through minor hockey and in the OHL I've always been known as a goal-scorer. I love to score goals and I love that role. That's something I take great pride in," he explained. "But to make it in the NHL, you have to play from your goal line out, and that's something that I really learned this year."

Although his coaches have taken a hands-on approach with the defensive game, another method has dictated his role as an imaginative goal-scorer.

"[Peterborough] tries not to touch too much on the offensive zone and let me be creative and do what I want to do. They don't want to hold me back there," Puempel said. "I think the defensive game is where I get the most coaching and feedback. Things like getting in shooting lanes and blocking shots are really important." 

Improvement on the defensive side has helped Puempel gain new opportunity through experience and increased responsibility in other areas.

"This year I was able to be on the penalty kill which provided me with a different situation and more ice-time, which is always going to make you a better player," he said. "I like to be in those situations. Being on [the ice] in the last minute when you have a lead is something I take with pride and was honoured to do this year, too."

With Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla being his NHL role model, Puempel’s game has already begun to mirror the all-around style and willingness to compete that Iginla showcases on a nightly basis. Given his size and excellent skating ability, Puempel has already concocted a lethal arsenal of skill and desire.

"I like to think that I'm the type of player that will do anything the coaches ask," he explained. "If [the coaches] want me to change my role to be an up-and-down winger to better help the team, I'll do that."

Greater opportunity to succeed continued to be the theme for Puempel’s development. Having improved his two-way game, including a successful debut on the penalty kill, another special teams chance was directed his way that helped boost his production, as well as his value as an up-and-coming prospect.

"To be on the power-play last year, I was parked in front of the net. Positioning-wise and improving my skating with the size is something that will really help me. I think that will translate well to the NHL game. That’s a skill that all NHL teams can use, I think."

30 NHL teams will get that chance to bring his extensive skill-set and poised attitude into their organization in only a matter of months. Although pressure continued to mount all season, Puempel has done all he can in anticipation of the late-June weekend.

"I realize that I can't control what happens now, so I just want to work hard in the summer and go to camp and compete for a spot -- wherever that may be."

Author: Ryan Dittrick |

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