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Scouts: Despite hit, Puempel remains top prospect

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The thought of undergoing season-ending hip surgery isn't exactly how Peterborough Petes forward Matthew Puempel envisioned his draft year concluding.

Despite that realization, he still has plenty going for him prior to the opening round of the 2011 Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn., on June 24.

For starters, just about every NHL scout already has caught a glimpse of the budding 6-foot, 198-pound sniper who produced a team-leading 34 goals (15 power-play goals) and 69 points in 55 games. Plus there is precedent -- the Tampa Bay Lightning selected forward Brett Connolly sixth last June despite the fact he suffered a hip injury and played only 16 games with the Prince George Cougars in the Western Hockey League.

When NHL Central Scouting released its mid-term rankings in January, Puempel was rated 29th among North American skaters. Connolly was rated third on Central Scouting's final release last April -- moving up one rung from the mid-term ranking despite his injury.

"Fifty-five games is more than an NCAA championship season, so there's a lot to go by," NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire told NHL.com. "I don't think his status will be affected one way or another. When a kid gets shut down for the season, it isn't unlike Brett Connolly, so you have to project three years down the road. You can't simply get overlooked because of an injury in one's draft year."

An MRI on Puempel last Thursday revealed a chip fracture in his hip that caused a fluid build-up. Peterborough General Manager Dave Reid said Puempel will visit a specialist this week and determine if surgery is required. There's an outside chance surgery may not be needed and the hip could heal on its own.

"He has undergone three different MRI's and the last MRI revealed the injury," Reid told NHL.com. "Surgery may be required, but we will not know until after the hip specialists can evaluate the injury. If surgery is required, only the specialist will know the type of surgery and the length of rehab."

The news of losing Puempel so close to the start of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs certainly was a huge hit to the organization.

"We are all disappointed for Matt and also disappointed that we are losing our leading point scorer and a premier goal scorer in the OHL," Reid said. "Matt has proven to everybody how special a player he is and I have no reason to believe that will change or would have changed had he not been injured. Our team works extremely hard for our goals and losing our leading goal scorer is not the news you want to hear. But it gives other players the opportunity to step up and take on more responsibility."

Central Scouting's Chris Edwards doesn't believe the injury will hamper Puempel's draft value.

"At this point, a season-ending injury won't affect our opinion," Edwards told NHL.com. "We have more than enough viewings on him. I have 14 viewings. He will be checked over at the (NHL Scouting) Combine (May 29-June 4) by the doctors, and as long as it is not career-ending, it should not make much of a difference."

The bottom line is this: For the last two seasons, Puempel has been one of the Canadian Hockey League's most prolific goal scorers.

"He is dangerous with the puck and has an excellent shot," Edwards said. "He has the ability to make highly skilled passes through traffic and can make his linemates better. His goals are skilled goals."

After becoming the youngest player in the history of the Petes to score 33 goals in a season and leading all first-year players in the Ontario Hockey League with 64 points, Puempel garnered OHL and CHL Rookie of the Year honors in 2009-10.

"I've always been known as an offensive guy," he said. "I like that, but I also don't want to be known as a one-dimensional player. I kind of want to work on from the goal line out. I think that's what gets you to the next level. Defense first and the offense will come off of that."

In 2010-11, Puempel worked hard to improve his two-way game. Still, he's best known for his goal-scoring prowess.

"I think Matt just needs to continue to find a complete game and he made great strides in that direction," Peterborough coach Mike Pelino told NHL.com. "I think throughout his whole youth, he was such a natural scorer. This year we've got him killing penalties and playing in key defensive situations, primarily to give him the opportunity to develop in those areas. As he continues to round out his complete game, he'll continue to be that much more effective."

Kitchener Rangers defenseman Ryan Murphy, the 10th-rated North American skater in Central Scouting's mid-term rankings, has seen Puempel's full offensive skill set.

"You give him a little bit of room and he's going to capitalize on it," Murphy told NHL.com.

Niagara IceDogs center Ryan Strome, rated 19th by Central Scouting, also has been impressed with Puempel's propensity to find the net.

"With Matt, every time he gets the puck in the scoring area, it's most likely going in," Strome said. "He's one of those dangerous guys. He's a guy that's going to put the puck in the net if he gets the opportunity, so you want to limit his chances. When he does get the puck, you want to make sure you close on him quickly because with the shot he's got, it's going to go in."

In addition to his knack for scoring goals, Puempel proved to be quite the sharp-shooter during the shooting accuracy event at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Skills Competition in January -- hitting four targets on five attempts for Team Cherry.

"I found out the morning before I was doing it, so there wasn't too much practice time involved, but once I got the first shot away, I put everything else out of my mind and just concentrated on hitting the next three," Puempel said.

Added Pelino: "When you see him get on the ice and grab a bunch of pucks and nail nine or 10 in a row, wherever he wants to put them, that's impressive. I guess he destroyed it, hitting four of five and having that fifth hit the crossbar. He's pretty deadly with his shot."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale