It’s been quite the journey for Emile Poirier thus far. From decent numbers in the QMJHL to an exciting rookie pro season that included an NHL debut, he was looking like one of the Flames’ next top prospects. He took a step backward in his second professional season though, and again in his third, and suddenly, Poirier became more of an afterthought than anything else.
That was, until it was noted that Poirier had been absent from the Stockton Heat for an extended period of time. At the end of the season, we learned that his time away from hockey was spent treating alcohol abuse. Though he fell in our prospect profile series (from 13 to 15), there’s renewed hope for him back on the ice.
A brief history
Known as a fast skater, Poirier honed his craft in the score-happy QMJHL. Playing three seasons for the Gatineau Olympiques, Poirier totalled 197 points – and 283 penalty minutes – over 195 games. He progressed each season, going from just 1.08 points per game when the Flames drafted him 22nd overall in 2013 to 1.38 in his draft+1 season.
From there, Poirier turned pro, and made it look like the Flames were right to use a first round pick on him where they did. He kicked off with 42 points in 55 games for his first season in the AHL, good for second in team scoring – just one point back of the lead, held by Kenny Agostino, who had played 12 more games than he had. A reason for Poirier’s lower games total? He got an NHL call up, dressing six times for the Flames in 2014-15 and scoring his first point, an assist. While Poirier only averaged 7:59 a game then, the future was bright.
His 2015-16 season did not go nearly as well. Poirier dropped to a mere 29 points in 60 games, falling to sixth in Stockton Heat scoring (seventh, if you include all of Hunter Shinkaruk’s AHL totals). While the Heat didn’t have too many young players doing much that season – Shinkaruk was the only other young forward of note – that sharp a drop in production was certainly concerning. Poirier got in two more NHL games, averaging 13:54 in ice time, but nothing was really going for him.
This past season he completely fell off, registering just 17 points in 43 games. He’d gone from 19 goals to 12 to six; he’d fallen from a leading scorer on the team all the way down to 14th, from being overtaken by newcomers like Mark Jankowski and Andrew Mangiapane to being outperformed by grittier notables such as Ryan Lomberg and Garnet Hathaway.
In hindsight, Poirier’s absence made a fair bit of sense: either his hockey career had disintegrated overnight, or something was wrong. That Poirier stepped away to address his alcohol abuse is nothing but a good sign for both the player and the person, and an enthusiastic development camp may have shown us hints of that player who seemed like such an exciting pick only a couple of years ago.
Scott Wheeler of the Toronto Star provided an assessment of Poirier’s on-ice performance in Stockton recently:
I was a huge fan of Poirier’s game when I scouted him once a week in his final season in the QMJHL in Gatineau, and his first season in the AHL showed major promise, but his progression has since been stagnant. Poirier is such an athletic, up-tempo presence and skater that it was hard not to imagine him transitioning into an NHL winger. Still, his game has become too linear, and he hasn’t shown he has the high-end puck skills to be a real scoring threat at the next level.
Calgary Flames development coach Ray Edwards liked what he saw from Poirier at development camp – cautioning that it’s only development camp – noting it was close to the Poirier that Edwards was told he’d see years ago.
He just looked fast, he looked light, he looked like he was enjoying himself. From my perspective, I’d heard all about Emile, and frankly have just seen glimpses of that over the last couple of years. For the first time in the two years I’ve been with the organization, I’m going into my third now, I saw what everyone else has seen. And so we’re really encouraged.
Stockton Heat head coach Ryan Huska, who’s coached Poirier throughout his minor-pro career in Adirondack and Stockton, shared Edwards’ optimism that Poirier can get back to where he was in 2014-15.
Sometimes when guys go through some of the challenges that he’s had to overcome in his young life, there’s a tendency for guys to come out better on the other side, I think, because they have a greater appreciation for the love they have for the game, maybe a renewed desire to get themselves to the level where they think they should be at. I’m excited for Emile to see what he’s going to do at training camp here this year. I know it probably feels like the weight of the world is off his shoulders. I think he’s going to turn a few heads this year for us or for Calgary, wherever he may find himself.
What comes next?
It’ll probably be another season in the AHL for Poirier. He’ll require waivers to be sent down now, but it doesn’t seem likely another team would claim him, even if they share the Flames’ renewed hope for the player. If someone else thinks he’s NHL-ready right now, then the Flames probably would, too.
Poirier is still a developing prospect, and it’s difficult enough to make the NHL as it is. He hasn’t played meaningful hockey since February. He may need a bit more time to get his legs back under him – but it’ll be time given to him.
Considering his potential, his skill set, and his status as someone who plays the right wing, it’s entirely possible Poirier may make it back to the NHL sooner rather than later. He has a new chance this season, the final year of his entry-level contract, and a strong camp or strong AHL performance combined with a need for a call up could see him back in the big league this season. Consider him a dark horse pick to surprise.
If not, then a strong AHL performance this season should give the Flames reason enough to re-sign him, even if he doesn’t see any NHL action. Poirier still has a fair bit to prove – but the odds are much more in his favour now than they were a year ago.
|#20 – Ryan Lomberg||#19 – Adam Ollas Mattsson|
|#18 – Daniel Pribyl||#17 – Eetu Tuulola|
|#16 – Adam Ruzicka|