Matt Puempel got a taste last year. Now he wants more.
Puempel, taken by Ottawa in the first round (24th overall) at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, made his big-league debut last season and looked as though he’d stick around — only to suffer a high ankle sprain after 13 games, and miss the rest of the season.
“I’m actually impressed with how strong and how good it feels,” Puempel told the Ottawa Sun in July, while attending his fifth (!!) prospect development camp. “It probably bugged me until the middle of May with all the workouts and the rehab. I’ve been working out on it. The recovery is different for everybody.
“With a high ankle sprain, the ligaments inside have to heal and I have no restrictions on it now.”
A former standout with OHL Peterborough, Puempel has shown well at the AHL level over the last couple of years. Prior to his call-up last season, he had 12 goals and 32 points in 51 games, and there is hope in Ottawa that he can transition to the NHL like other past scorers in Bingo, such as Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone, the rookie duo that carried the Sens at time last season.
It certainly seems like Ottawa’s brass thinks Puempel can produce at the NHL level.
In his brief cameo last season he skated on a line with Mika Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan. But the way Puempel sees it, he needs to keep working, have a good camp, and make the Sens’ opening-night roster before thinking about potential linemates for this season.
“When you’re playing on a line with Mika and Bobby it’s a pretty cool thrill but at the same time it’s a job,” he explained. “You have to do your job and you can’t be wowed by anything out there.
“By that time I was more used to the lifestyle and the pace of the game and how I felt. I was confident for sure and felt good.”
The Ottawa Senators are going into tonight’s game against the San Jose Sharks with an opportunity to move ahead of Boston in the Wild Card race after the Bruins dropped their fifth straight on Sunday, but they won’t have all hands on deck.
Ottawa lost 22-year-old forward Matt Puempel to a high-ankle sprain that’s expected to cost him four-to-six weeks, per TSN’s Steve Lloyd. In other words, he is done for the regular season, but might still play for the Senators in the playoffs if they get that far. Puempel made his NHL debut on Feb. 21 and has gone on to score two goals and three points in 13 contests.
While Puempel was used sparingly, forward Milan Michalek has been averaging 17:46 minutes per game since the All-Star break and will also be unavailable on Monday. It’s not clear how long Michalek will be sidelined for, but he’s being held out due to headaches, so that’s obviously concerning.
Meanwhile, goaltender Craig Anderson (hand) is hoping to be ready to serve as the Senators’ backup at some point this weekend. A player getting healthy is never a bad thing, but his availability might worry some Senators fans that feel their best chance to make the playoffs is by riding 27-year-old rookie goaltender Andrew Hammond. While Hammond does have a 1.65 GAA and .947 save percentage in 15 games, it was just a couple weeks ago Senators coach Dave Cameron offered a strong endorsement of Anderson.
Would Cameron go back to Anderson if he had the option? It sounds like we’ll find out soon.
In the meantime, Ottawa has some important games to play without Puempel and Michalek.
Surging Sens proving importance of youth
Ottawa native Ryan Spooner scored twice as the Bruins defeated the Senators 3-1 Tuesday night.
With the win, the Bruins (34-22-10) now have a six-point lead on the Florida Panthers for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Senators (30-24-11) fall seven points back of the Bruins in the loss.
With his second and third goals of the season, Spooner extended his point streak to six games.
Craig Anderson, who was making consecutive starts for the first time since Jan. 20-21, made 19 saves in the loss.
Loui Eriksson had the other Bruins goal.
Sens’ forward Matt Puempel scored his first NHL goal in the loss.
Tuukka Rask, who celebrated his 28th birthday on Tuesday, made 39 saves to improve to 27-16-10 on the season.
The Bruins have points in all four meetings between the to clubs this season (2-0-2). They’ll meet for a fifth and final time in Ottawa on March 19.