The Rangers picked up Matt Puempel on the waiver wire from the Ottawa Senators on November 21st, 2016. It turned out to be one of the better waiver wire claims in recent Rangers history. The winger displayed great speed and showed considerable skill as a part-time player in the Rangers bottom-six forward group.
Before being claimed by Jeff Gorton Puempel played the first 29 games of his career with the Senators. He scored just four goals and two assists with Ottawa but failed to break out of the AHL and make the Senators main roster. His brief tenure with the Rangers last season was the best hockey of his NHL career.
In 27 games with the Rangers this year Puempel scored six goals and added three assists. But every Rangers fan best remembers Puempel for his hat trick on the road against Arizona. All three of his goals came on the power play. Fun fact: J.T. Miller finished the season with just two power play goals.
There’s no good time for an injury, but there are certainly awful times to get one. In the game after Puempel’s first career hat trick he suffered a concussion. That injury kept him out of the lineup January 23rd.
It’s hard to say what would have happened with Puempel’s season if he had not suffered that concussion. After the New Year Alain Vigneault regularly made him a healthy scratch. Puempel and Brandon Pirri found themselves competing with Tanner Glass for a role on the fourth line down the stretch.
When evaluating Puempel’s season with the Rangers - as brief as it was - it’s important to remember the role he was asked to play. He averaged 10:09 time on ice per game. That was the lowest average ice time among all players who appeared in at least 20 games with the Blueshirts. It’s also not a lot of ice time to make an impact.
The former Senators first round pick scored a goal in his first game after returning from his concussion, but was quiet after that. Puempel had two assists in his last 13 games of the season and struggled to stay in the lineup. In those final 13 games of the season he skated less than 8:20 on four separate occasions.
Puempel’s possession numbers with the Rangers were unremarkable. And that’s to be expected given his deployment, linemates and style of game. He helped give the Rangers fourth line some offense when he was in the lineup, but Puempel is something of a one-dimensional player. He broke even in terms of giveaways and takeaways and took two minor penalties in 274:21 of ice time.
The Rangers re-signed Puempel this month to become expansion draft compliant. Because of that there is a chance he will be back with New York next season. But Puempel is undoubtedly at a crossroads in his career.
Final Grade: B
Too generous? Perhaps, but remember how small of a sample size we are working with for Puempel and what role he was asked to play by Vigneault. He added offense to the fourth line and scored three even strength goals in addition to his power play hat trick. For some context: Pirri scored three at evens in 60 games. Oscar Lindberg scored eight in 65 games.
It’s also important to remember that Puempel is actually five months younger than Jimmy Vesey and three months younger than Mika Zibanejad. And that he had to deal with a concussion just after it looked like he was starting to establish himself in New York.
Puempel compares favorably to the archetypal fourth line winger, especially in regards to his shot generation. On a “scoring fourth line” he was a great option for Vigneault and he proved that when he got an opportunity to make an impact. Unfortunately for Puempel he never seemed to earn his coach’s favor or trust. His deployment was proof of that.