As part of our 2011 NHL Entry Draft coverage here at MLHS, I will be releasing a series of player profiles highlighting a handful of players who figure to be selected toward the middle-late first round or early second round. The Maple Leafs appear poised to select three times (Flyers’ 1st round pick, Bruins’ 1st round pick, Leafs’ 2nd round pick) within this range, though Burke has stated the possibility of combining two of those picks in an effort to move up. These profiles will provide a brief overview of the player’s strengths, weaknesses, and draft day outlook. Today, we’ll begin with Peterborough forward Matt Puempel.
The Basics: Talented goal scoring forward for the Peterborough Petes; 34 goals and 35 assists for 69 points in 55 games played.
Strengths: Puempel entered this season with a tremendous amount of hype and promise after coming off an electrifying rookie campaign for the Petes, during which he was focal point of the Peterborough offense and point-a-game player. When Puempel is on his game, the former CHL Rookie of the Year is arguably the most prolific goal scorer in the nation with a phenomenal release and elite level offensive instincts. Matt is one of those players for whom the game just seems to come naturally and easily, as he possesses strong skating ability, creativity, soft hands around the net and that uncanny goal scorer’s ability to be in the right place at the right time. There are no character issues to speak of as he is very coachable, a good teammate and works hard day in and day out. In terms of pure upside, Puempel is right up there with the best of them and under the right situation, he could pay huge dividends for a team willing to gamble a little bit.
Weaknesses: Early on in September, many were calling for a potential 100 point campaign and top 5 selection for the talented young forward. Despite those lofty preseason expectations, Puempel struggled with inconsistency shouldering an increased offensive load on one of the OHL’s weakest teams and even had his year cut short with season-ending hip surgery. He has the tendency to disappear for long stretches and be completely invisible until you suddenly see him appear on the scoresheet with a point here and there, which isn’t exactly what you want from a key piece of your offensive attack. The size factor here is not a major concern as Matt stands at a respectable 6’0 198 lbs, though he’s not particularly strong or willing to engage in the dirty areas as he relies more on creating in open ice or sneaking behind unsuspecting defenders. He could be one of those players who needs a good centre at the next level in order to excel.
Draft Day Outlook: Very much like Jeff Skinner last season, this could be one of the toughest players to follow on draft day. Though Central Scouting and ISS have Puempel going in the late twenties, I think that a team that falls in love with his upside could gamble on him as early as the top ten, though it’s more likely he’ll slot in somewhere in the teens. Keep in mind that Central Scouting didn’t even have Skinner in their top thirty last year. The hip surgery may cause teams to at least pause, but it should have a negligible effect on his ultimate draft status. In an organization filled with primarily secondary scorers or two-way forwards, the Maple Leafs could certainly benefit from adding a player of Puempel’s front-line goal scoring ability and considerable upside, though it would likely have to come at the cost of trading up.