Puempel sets the bar high for himself

Matt Puempel will come to training camp with the goal of making the Ottawa Senators, but what he’ll really be trying to do is make an impression.

Puempel sets the bar high for himself

Matt Puempel will come to training camp with the goal of making the Ottawa Senators, but what he’ll really be trying to do is make an impression.

With a year of junior eligibility left, Puempel will play with the Kitchener Rangers. There’s no need for the Senators to rush him. They have a surfeit of young, promising forwards.

Besides, after his shortened 2011-12 season, Puempel could use another year to develop his skills.

Thanks to an eight-game suspension on Dec. 8, 2011, for a hit to the head of Oshawa Generals forward Sebastian Uvira, and a concussion he suffered in a Jan. 5 game in Kingston, Puempel was limited to 30 games.

Still, Ottawa’s third first-round pick (24th overall) in 2011 had 17 goals and 16 assists, demonstrating why he is so highly regarded.

But the best part of his season might have been the nine games he played in Binghamton once his OHL season ended.

According to Randy Lee, Ottawa’s director of player development, Puempel realized straight away that he needed to step up his game if he was going to compete in the AHL, and he did.

“Those games were wonderful for him,” said Lee.

“He had a really tough year with the concussion and a long suspension. I thought he played well in Peterborough, but I thought he played really well in Binghamton.

“I thought he was more competitive, I thought he was more engaged.

“Because of the size and speed of the guys in the AHL, he elevated his game, so he showed me some really promising signs.”

Puempel said the experience was an eye-opener because it showed him what he needed to do if he wanted to be a professional.

It’s one thing being a celebrated junior player. It’s quite another to be an 18-year-old in a tough professional league. He realized he had to crank up the volume or he wasn’t going to get off the fourth line.

As one of the more celebrated players on his junior team, he was looked up to as a leader by the younger players.

In the AHL, he was just a teenager playing with guys who had kids his own age.

“That was a transition, but I just tried to soak as much in as I could,” he said.

“I just tried to get better every day. It was difficult but I felt I adapted well, and by the last few games, getting a regular shift was something I was really happy about.

“But you learn fast that things come back to haunt you. Little things you could get away with in junior, you can’t get away with them there.”

CHASING JUSTIN SCHULZ

The courtship of University of Wisconsin free-agent defenceman Justin Schultz continued on Friday with the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs making their pitches.

There was no immediate word from the Senators on how their presentation was received.

The Maple Leafs and the Senators are in a group of suitors that is said to include the Vancouver Canucks, the New York Rangers, the Edmonton Oilers, and the Minnesota Wild.

The Canucks appear to be the front-runners, with some sources indicating that Schultz has already decided to sign with Vancouver.

The 21-year-old was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks at No. 43 overall in 2008. He became a free agent on June 24 when the Ducks couldn’t sign him.

There is more than a little irony that the Senators could have had him four years ago, but used the 42nd pick to select defenceman Patrick Wiercioch.

Schultz will be restricted to a two-year contract worth $925,00 annually, including a $92,500 signing bonus.

But he could be eligible for $2.85 million in performance bonuses for a $3.77 million cap hit.

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