When the Calgary Flames traded down twice in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, they acquired two third-round picks. One was used to make an off-the-board selection in Lincoln Stars defenceman Jake Boltmann. The other was used to select Jeremie Poirier, a defenceman out of the QMJHL, who many projected to be a first-round pick.
After his season in Saint John, New Brunswick ended last month, TWC caught up Poirier to discuss the draft, his season, and what’s next.
Poirier’s experience at the 2020 NHL Draft
While his defensive game required some work, he arguably was the defenceman with the highest offensive skill in the draft.
Falling out of the first round was a little surprising, but few expected him to fall all the way into the third round. Our TWC Consolidated Rankings for 2020 had him at 25th.
Was this disappointing for Poirier when he fell out of the first round? Poirier didn’t mince his words:
“Players who say they don’t look at [the draft boards], they are lying. When you looked at the rankings . . . I was ranked in the first round everywhere so there was some expectation that I was going to go then. When the first round went and I wasn’t drafted I was obviously a little sad . . . but I was happy that I was selected.”
It is obviously hard to get selected after you think you will, but this gives you an added incentive to work hard and show what you have to offer. “It’s a chance for me to perform now,” he added.
And perform he did. Poirier was already such an incredible offensive player, and he is aware that this is one of his strengths as a player. “I’m an electrifying player, a game-changer, when I have the puck on my stick, I love to make plays and shoot the puck a lot.”
Hearing that probably has Flames fans salivating—this sounds like the dream to have on the Flames. The type of defenceman that can make your jaw drop with their plays at the blue line and also score goals is a player that the Flames’ defence corps could absolutely use. Case and point:
Poirier on his offence
As good as he was offensively, he managed to improve even further, putting up 37 points in 33 regular season games for the Saint John Sea Dogs. This was good for third among all defencemen in the QMJHL, and second on his team for points this season.
However, it was in the playoffs where he really lit the lamp, putting up nine points in six playoff games, good for coincidentally third in the QMJHL among defencemen again, and also second in points-per-game among defencemen. On the Sea Dogs, he was just one point behind fellow Flames draft pick Ryan Francis.
With his offensive game being as strong as it is, would Poirier ever consider playing at forward instead of on the back end? While he is a left shot, he clearly has the hands and talent to be an excellent playmaker and scorer as a pro. Poirier didn’t think it was a good idea, though:
“I played forward when I was younger. . . . With the skills that I have and the type of player that I am, . . . . maybe people think of me as being a good forward, but I think playing on the defensive side and being a defenceman gives me an edge with my skillset.
“I think I can see the play better so I can take my time. . . . I’m [going to be] skating up the ice with the puck, so when I’m leaving from behind my net, I have more time to think, more time to see the ice and make good passes. . . . So I think I can use my skillset better if I play defence.
“With the work I did to improve my defensive game, I think I just want to be a more complete defenceman, be more of a two-way [player]. I think if I can keep the skillset that I have right now and be more of a two-way [player], it’s a pretty good combo.”
Poirier on his defence
It was his offensive game that got him drafted, but after many scouts agreeing that his defensive game that needed work, Poirier made it his mission to improve in that area this season. “I wanted to be more of a complete player, and not try those fancy plays all the time. I’ve been making good steps this year . . . but I wanted to get that flashy style and keep that play with the puck style in my game because that is who I am.”
His offensive game still grew, but his defensive game also took another big step forward. Watching him play, it was clear that he was more aware of his positioning, tracking back, and minding his gaps much more effectively. While a flawed statistic on its own, his plus-minus went from a horrendous -25 to a more reasonable -3 this season. In the playoffs, he finished above water at +2.
Poirier credits his coach for helping him to improve his defensive game. Historically, Saint John has struggled on defence, and particularly in transition. This season they hired former Flames coach Greg Gilbert, who Poirier said inspired him to be a better player. “He’s a defensive coach, and coached in the NHL so he knows how to play there and win there. It was a good opportunity to work with a coach who has this much experience. He’s pretty old school . . . but treated us more like pros and . . . [he] was hard on us… but I appreciate what he did.”
But even more than that, Poirier credited Gilbert especially for taking the time he needed to get better. He mentioned that this helped him become a better player, which should help him take another step forward in his game.
“We talked a lot about positioning too, like where to position myself so I won’t have to skate too much, . . . or when you face a one-on-one or when you go in a battle, what kind of angle should I take or what kind of speed should I get to match the guy’s speed instead of just trying to skate behind him.
“I think he’s seen it a lot, he’s worked with a lot of good, young defencemen probably in the NHL when he was there and he played with a lot of good defencemen probably, so he’s seen it. So it was good for me, he took the time to let me see and give me tips, sometimes just before or after practise, sometimes just watching clips, sometimes it’s good to watch video and see what I can do better.
“Watching myself, [seeing] my mistakes or other things I do [well]. . . . We watch videos together and sometimes just a little bit of extra time after or before practise, showing me some tips about my positioning, my stick too—where to position my stick, . . . [it was] pretty helpful, for sure.”
Growing as a leader
The improvements in his game were evident, and will set him up next season for his final junior year. But perhaps most impressive and admirable are the strides Poirier took as a leader. This year, Poirier was selected as one of the Sea Dogs’ alternate captains. “It was time for me to take on this role,” Poirier said. “I just wanted to be the guy to show [younger players] the way, and next year I want to keep taking steps as a 19-year-old.”
What was particularly interesting is that Poirier, being a Quebec-born player, did not speak a word of English when he joined Saint John for the first time. Because of this learning curve and difficult adjustment he had to make, he makes it a point to specifically go out of his way to help some of the younger French guys feel at home on the new team.
Whether it was helping to translate plays or asking coaches to speak slower, Poirier knows the struggles of adapting to the English market and wants to help the other players feel at home. “It feels common sense to do, but I think the older French guys have made a point to help the younger guys.”
Saint John has a history of strong francophone defencemen who have found their way into the NHL. One that Poirier looks up to, and one who he is often compared to is the Ottawa Senators’ Thomas Chabot. Poirier notes that while they had different head coaches with the team, they have the same defence coach, who often compares the two.
“In the NHL, there are a lot of offensive defencemen, [guys] like Thomas Chabot in Ottawa—he played in Saint John too. The [defence] coach in Saint John, Jeff Cowan, coached him when he was in Saint John and he coached me. [Cowan’s] always making comparisons between both of us and talking about how I make plays like [Chabot] or how I’ll [make] the same mistakes or how I’ll [make] the same good plays as he was [making].
I think it just kind of makes sense to compare myself to a player like that and model my game after him cause he’s obviously a guy that skates [with] the puck well, and loves to shoot the puck too and skate with it. So I think for me to have a guy that played junior in the same organization with all the same people that I’m playing for—it’s always nice and I can model my game after him and [it will] just bring me a little closer to him and it’s just easy to compare my [game] with him.
If the Flames have a player that projects similarly to Chabot, that would help solidify the offensive side of their defence for a long time to come.
What’s next for Poirier?
It’s been a long season for Poirier. Between the start and stop season and the very quick playoffs, Poirier is going to take a bit of time to rest and recharge the batteries before heading back to Quebec. Born and raised in Salaberry-de-Valleyview, Poirier will spend his summer out there training and getting better. “The NHL is a fast league, so I’m going to keep improving my leg speed and strength. You can never be fast enough . . . and you can never be strong enough, so [I will] just keep working hard.”
On the ice, Poirier wants to keep working on his shot and his strides. With the uncertainties from the pandemic, ice time may be harder to come by this summer than in previous, but Poirier is going to make the most of whatever time he has to just keep getting better and better.