Better to get the early bird discount on acquiring Matt Puempel now rather than later.
The Kitchener Rangers might have shifted the balance in the OHL by adding the Ottawa Senators first-round pick ahead of the summer trade freeze. For one roster player, Zach Lorentz, and two future second-round picks, the Rangers have added one of the league's premier goal scorers from the Peterborough Petes for less than what the going rate would have been during the season. Coach-GM Steve Spott notes the Rangers, who made a somewhat unexpected trip to the league semifinal this season before the needle hit 'E' against the London Knights, are serving notice they plan to contend. Puempel, the Ottawa Senators prospect who's averaged 40 goals per 68 games in three injury-riddled junior seasons, gives the Rangers the natural sniper they had to get by without last season. The only element of risk concerns the concussion Puempel sustained in January.
From Josh Brown:
The Rangers received full medical clearance before consummating the trade, which was in the works for the past month. Puempel, who was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the first round of last year's NHL draft (24th overall), asked to be moved in the off-season."We have a good group of guys coming back and to make a deal like this, you have to bring in the right person and we've done that," said Spott. "I think it sends our team a message … that our expectations are high this year."
"Our job is to continue to build the hockey club," he said. "It's our 50th anniversary and we're going to treat this very much like a year when we host the Memorial Cup where we want to, in this special year, try to field as competitive of a club as we can." (Waterloo Record)
The big question with Puempel is whether the change will do him good, as the old song says. He asked for the trade and got his first choice of teams, which puts the onus on him to perform. As his agent, Pat Morris, put it:
"As a player going into his last year and a team that had not been successful and is really a team in transition with how it's drafted and how some of the younger players have been successful, I think Matt thought they would be a really good team not this coming season but the following season," said Morris. "Being that this better be his last year in junior if he's not playing in the NHL, getting moved now gives the player or players involved a chance to be with a team from the beginning of the season rather than coming in during the middle of a season." (Peterborough Examiner)
There are some striking similarities between Puempel and current Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brett Connolly, actually. Connolly is a higher-end player, but each won CHL rookie-of-the-year honours after scoring 30-plus goals as a 16-year-old, which whetted appetites to see what more they could do as they matured. Each ended up needing hip surgery during his draft season, but was still taken in the first round of the NHL draft. At the junior level, a bout of bad luck and playing for, well, not-great teams, has kept people wanting more. Connolly did break out in his final junior season with the WHL's Prince George Cougars, scoring 46 goals in just 59 games to lead his team into the playoffs.
More time in the O zone?
Last season, he was limited to 30 games due to a head-check suspension and a concussion he suffered on Jan. 5. He never made it back to the Petes lineup, although he did get in nine AHL games after Peterborough missed the playoffs. He is a rare commodity as a scorer, though. It's also plausible that going from the Petes, who were ninth in the East in successive seasons, to the Rangers means Puempel will be on a team which has more offensive zone time and hence more scoring chances. That could give him a chance at cracking 40 goals.
Puempel is the third Petes first-rounder in row who will play out his OHL string elsewhere, joining current Boston Bruins farmhand Ryan Spooner and Vancouver Canucks wing Zack Kassian. (Kassian was traded by the Petes in 2010 for Austin Watson, who of course went to London at last season's OHL trade deadline.) It's getting to be a familiar theme; the positive for third-year GM Dave Reid is this didn't fester until August when the optics could be worse, let alone carry on into the season.
From Mike Davies:
Reid believes this will be the end of the exodus of star players asking for trades like Ryan Spooner and although he didn't ask for a trade Austin Watson did not return from the world junior championships in January knowing the Petes were trying to trade him.
"There are certain circumstances with each player which are special for every player. You'd have to ask the individual player as to the circumstances," said Reid. "Is it the transition from when I came in the last two years to what players were used to before? Maybe. I don't know. We know that what we're doing here and the group we have got, we know we're doing the right things and are developing the players we have on our roster. We believe in what we're doing and that we're going in the right direction. We're not the only ones in this situation. I know there are other players in the league who have asked for trades. It's part of the game. We do everything we can to provide a great hockey opportunity for players in Peterborough and a great life experience for young men. I'm not concerned with how our organization is doing things moving forward." (Peterborough Examiner)
Going to Kitchener means Puempel is part of the same team as Scott, Canada's national junior team coach. Puempel got a look from Hockey Canada last season but was omitted from the 28-man roster for the Canada-Russia challenge. He likely is a long shot to make this season's lineup, but playing for Spott probably doesn't hurt.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.