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Flames prospect Jeremie Poirier swipes junior record from current NHL standout

March 9th, 2022 by Wes Gilbertson - Calgary Sun

Calgary Flames prospect Jeremie Poirier hasn’t yet settled on a special place to display this keepsake puck.

Or maybe he has.

“I have it in my stall at the rink right now with the tape around it —­ ‘Franchise record,’ ” Poirier said. “I don’t really know what to do with it now. I’ll probably just keep it there to remind myself that good things are going to happen if you keep working hard.

“It’s a great reminder so yeah, I think I’ll just leave it in my stall. I think that’s a great spot for it.”

Poirier earned that souvenir puck this past weekend when he took an eraser to the Saint John Sea Dogs’ history book, becoming the highest-scoring defenceman on behalf of that Quebec Major Junior Hockey League outfit.

The 19-year-old Poirier, selected by the Flames in the third round of the 2020 NHL Draft, has so far piled up 154 points in 202 appearances with the Sea Dogs. Starting with Wednesday’s clash against the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, he still has two dozen opportunities to pad that total before the regular season wraps.

A franchise record is always a cool achievement, but what’s especially impressive — and especially encouraging for Flames fans — is who set the previous standard. Poirier swiped that mark from Thomas Chabot, now a workhorse for the NHL’s Ottawa Senators. He capped his stint in Saint John with 153 points in 202 career loggings.

It wouldn’t be fair to compare Poirier to Chabot, a guy who heard his name called in the opening round of the NHL Draft, represented his country on the world-junior stage and didn’t require much minor-league seasoning. Nobody expects that to be the case for this future Flame.

It never hurts, though, for an up-and-comer to identify a top-tier talent as a role model of sorts.

Chabot not only skated on the same ice at TD Station. According to Poirier, he heard some of the same things from the staff in Saint John, and not always ‘Great goal!’ or ‘Nice assist!’

“From what I’ve heard with the coaches and stuff that were here when he played here, we kind of had the same profile a little bit — that we’re really good with the puck offensively and all that stuff, but the staff was really hard on him back in the day and hard on me during my time here just to learn how to defend and learn how to play a pro game and be more two-way and have success on both sides of the ice,” said Poirier, who had previously shattered Chabot’s all-time club record for goals by a rearguard and topped his point total this past Saturday with a dish to William Dufour for a power-play marker. “I think that’s good for me to have such a good example in Thomas that did it before me, just to keep in my head at all times, to keep thinking defensively first and the points are going to come after.

“That’s good to have someone that kind of followed the same path a little before me, so I can follow his footsteps and just do a little bit what he did and keep pushing the right direction.”

Paul Boutilier was an assistant coach for Chabot’s final two campaigns in New Brunswick.

He rejoined the Sea Dogs this season as a defence consultant but also works on an individual basis with several NHL clients — a list that includes the Senators smoothie, plus Noah Dobson of the New York Islanders and David Savard of the Montreal Canadiens.

Boutilier also played 300-plus games of his own as a big-league blue-liner and won a Stanley Cup with a couple of Sutter brothers on Long Island.

He’s pushing Poirier to improve his posture and to better utilize one of his offensive assets — his lateral vision — at his own end of the rink. They talk about ‘shift downtime,’ an emphasis on making efficient use of those stretches when the puck is not on your stick. As the coach explained, “Are you just an admission ticket, you sit in the front row with the rest of the fans until you get the puck, or are actively taking in information that will help you so that your mind will slow down when you do get it and you’ll make better plays?”

“I think the biggest thing with Jeremie, and he would probably tell you this, he played defence the previous three years as the forwards played him,” Boutilier said. “And now, I’d say in the last couple of months, he’s really turned that around. That’s a principle we use — we play them. You have to play the forwards, they don’t play you.

“And that’s a big change for Jeremie. That means you’re actually playing D. You’re actually taking away the best ice early. ‘We play them. They don’t play us.’ That’s the motto, and it’s a mindset.”

Poirier, listed at 6-foot-1 and 190 lb., certainly realizes that defensive dependability is the key to someday living his NHL dream.

He attended his first training camp with the Flames in the fall. Before being returned to junior, he inked an entry-level contract.

The talented puck-mover is the midst of another productive campaign, with 11 goals and 32 assists to show for 44 spins so far, but he insisted “points are a second thought for me right now.”

“I’m just trying to focus on my defensive game and just building a real strong two-way game and helping my team win every night,” he said, reminding that the Sea Dogs — with a roster that includes fellow Flames prospects Ryan Francis and Yan Kuznetsov — are priming for a berth in the 2022 Memorial Cup as the tournament hosts. “When Calgary drafted me two years ago, they already knew what I could do with the puck. Scoring and making plays with the puck, that’s something they already knew. They wanted to see how can I perform away from the puck on the defensive side and even when I have the puck, game management and all that stuff.

“I feel like they’re pretty happy with how I’ve developed on that side of the ice and they just tell me to keep pushing that way and keep focusing on playing good defensively and making smart plays in my own end.”

Boutilier is stressing the same.

Because for a back-ender, points are never the primary measure.

“An example of that in the NHL is even Thomas Chabot this year,” Boutilier said of his star client, now in his fifth season with the Senators and currently leading the loop in average icetime. “Working with him for the past six or seven years and seeing his evolution, I think it was Dec. 11 that he didn’t even have a goal but it was his best season in the NHL because he totally rounded out his game and played really well defensively. So is he a much better player? Absolutely. Does he have less points and goals at this stage? Yes, but the player is way more valuable to the organization.

“And that’s really the same alignment that we’re trying to have J.P. have with this group here. On Sunday, for example, I thought he played one of his best games of the season. The fans around have seen him over the last four years and they know winning hockey … and numerous fans came up to me and said, ‘That’s the best game I’ve seen J.P. play in his four years here.’ Now, ironically, no points.

“Is it a Darryl Sutter moment? Absolutely. Did he have the third effort that Darryl talks about from time to time on his post-game? Absolutely. Was he physical? To his degree, yes. Did he engage? Yes. Did he run the power-play really well? Yes. Was he the fourth guy moving the puck many times in a 10-2 win? Yes. But overall, his game has come much further along where that was a statement as much as the celebration the night before when he broke the record. I think team success has to come first, and then it’s nice to have the other stuff.”

Poirier, with that souvenir puck now stashed in his locker stall, couldn’t agree any more.

Asked about Chabot’s legacy in Saint John, he focused not so much on the individual accomplishments but rather a championship run that he was a part of.

“Obviously, he’s having a ton of success at the NHL level right now and everybody remembers him around here,” Poirier said. “For sure, having a lot of points and being a great defenceman and playing at the world juniors and stuff like that, it helped him a lot for his legacy. But I think winning the President’s Cup (in 2017) and going to the Memorial Cup, that helped another notch for him to be recognized in the city. That’s something for me personally and as a team, we’re going to push really hard too to get those Cups at the end of this year.”

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