For a team lacking in high-end offensive talent, Emile Poirier was one of the Flames’ better hopes. He was coming off of a rookie pro season with the Adirondack Flames in which he’d scored 19 goals and 42 points over 55 games; what wasn’t to like? He was second on the team in scoring as a 19-year-old, and likely would have been first had he gotten a couple more games in.
So expectations may have been somewhat high for his second season. After all, prospects are supposed to keep progressing, right? And he was a first round pick; whether fair or not, there’s more expected of him. Especially because he was looking capable of it from his draft year onwards.
Except this past season did not go to plan at all.
Poirier followed up his rookie year in the AHL by scoring 12 goals and 29 points over 60 games. It was a decline across the board from him, as he dropped from .76 points per game as a rookie to just .48 as a sophomore.
He went from one of the farm team’s top scorers to sixth place, just back of notable offensive force Turner Elson. Poirier did put 140 pucks on net – but that was still fewer than what everyone above him in scoring did. He got 2.3 shots per game; Elson had 2.5 per, and everyone else above him in scoring more than that.
So it’s fair to say this was a disappointing season for Poirier. He went from one of the stronger offensive prospects in the system to a less certain commodity over the course of a year. It was particularly unfortunate as well, because Poirier plays the right wing – and there are a few spots in the Flames lineup that could use a high-end offensive right winger.
He did get in a couple of NHL games this season, though: both at the end of March. While he went pointless, Poirier averaged 13:54 a game (with 56 seconds of powerplay time in one of them) and had three shots on net – compare that to the two he had over six games the season before, and it’s at least a glimmer of improvement. Poirier spent most of his ice time alongside Mikael Backlund, and the two were a 5v5 65.0% CF partnership.
Impact on team
While Poirier’s tiny sample size in ice time allowed hm to be the top Flame in corsi out of anyone who donned the jersey this past season (68.09%), the fact that he barely played, both his games were meaningless, and he was the most sheltered with 50.0% offensive zone starts did point towards a player not yet ready. Not that he’ll never get there – he didn’t get crushed while being sheltered, after all – but not there just yet.
But a couple of minutes in the NHL doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. What really matters was his performance in the AHL, as he went from one of the top-scoring players on his team to in danger of technically falling out of the top six.
Just what happened there? That, I don’t have an answer for – but we can turn to someone who saw and talked to him day in and day out. When asked about his season, this is what Brandon Kisker, the Stockton Heat’s director of media relations, had to say:
Obviously a bit of a letdown for most on Emile’s season from a stats standpoint and I think the man himself would admit a bit of frustration in his own game. For a guy who seemingly had an easier time to compete during his first year and be rewarded with that midseason call-up to struggling to get the offense generated it’s easy to point at a sophomore slump for the first rounder.
He, nor Coach Huska would give you an excuse as to why the lower production occurred, however one thing the stats don’t tell you is how he improved away from the puck.
Us “armchair coaches” might think that a scorer only needs to produce offense to be considered a good player, but as we should all know, there’s a full 200 feet of ice to play on. Emile vastly improved in his own zone over the course of the season and became a more well-rounded player. With a dedicated offseason and a renewed focus, we should see a more complete player emerge ready to compete for a spot on the Flames this off-season.
What comes next?
It’s important to remember that Poirier is only 21 years old. He won’t turn 22 until December. He still has two years left on his entry level deal: he’s young, and he has time to further improve his game. The Flames don’t need to be in a rush with him, they just need him to work to get better.
A year ago, Poirier was one of the top prospects in the Flames’ system, and clearly a much better pick than Hunter Shinkaruk. A year later, it looks as though Shinkaruk has taken his place. Who knows what we’ll be saying in a year’s time?
Maybe Poirier’s offence dipped because he can’t handle this level of play, maybe it was because he got caught up in developing his two-way game, maybe it was simply a blip on the radar. Things will become clearer over the course of the next season – as I stress that despite two seasons played in the AHL, only one year of his entry-level contract has thus far been burned.
Poirier has plenty of time to figure it out. And if he can marry his developed defensive skills with the scoring potential that got him drafted, then the Flames will have another strong prospect on their hands.
It just takes time.
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