Winning Wranglers aiding Poirier’s development

Photo: Calgary Wranglers

📝 by Patrick Williams

The AHL puts a rookie defenseman through a grind, and that is before the Calder Cup Playoffs even arrive. Jeremie Poirier of the Calgary Wranglers is no exception.

The normal hiccups that come with adjusting to the pro game at that position have found him, but the 20-year-old has also mixed in plenty of success for a team that is on the brink of finishing with the best record in the AHL this season.

“Having such a good team around you can help your development, can help you night in and night when you see your team winning games,” Poirier said. “We know how to win, so it helps.”

Several Wranglers players could be in line for a promotion next season to the Calgary Flames, and a strong run through the Calder Cup Playoffs this spring could only improve those possibilities. Poirier, who was selected by the Calgary Flames in the third round of the 2020 NHL Draft, is making his case with 41 points in 66 games, earning a spot on the 2022-23 AHL All-Rookie Team as announced earlier today.

Poirier is also chasing a championship for a second consecutive season; he wrapped up his junior career with a Memorial Cup title playing for Saint John in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. And the Flames’ top affiliate has unfinished business after reaching the Western Conference Finals in their final season in Stockton last year.

Winning a Calder Cup is the next step. First, however, comes a tune-up this week against the Abbotsford Canucks, a potential postseason opponent for the Wranglers. The teams close the regular season with three games at Abbotsford Centre, and Calgary comes to town with a 14-game point streak (13-0-0-1), tied for the AHL’s longest this season.

Like so many of today’s young defensemen entering the pro game, Poirier already possesses elite-level skill. He can skate, he can move the puck, and he is more than willing to use his excellent shot. Learning to play both sides of the puck successfully will put him in the NHL to stay, which is where the AHL comes in for someone like him.

Everything is quicker, more physical, in the AHL. The need to simplify one’s game becomes clear for young AHL blueliners, and if it does not, a head coach like Calgary’s Mitch Love will certainly point it out. Better footwork. Play with quicker pace. Defend more quickly. Every opponent has a roster filled with top prospects and experienced pros, and that can make the jump for a young defenseman that much more challenging.

Poirier is well aware of that and is working on “everything” with the Wranglers.

“Even at the start there,” Poirier recalled, “I think I was ready to make the jump, but for sure you realize there are some adjustments that need to be made in every game. After a couple of games, I started to get a better feel of what the pace of play and the game looked like. It’s easier to adjust once you figure out what’s going on out there.”

Playing for Love, the league’s coach of the year in 2021-22 in his first season working an AHL bench, has been ideal for Poirier.

“Having someone like Mitch who is invested like this in his young players, it’s been great. Every day, it’s a go-to-work-and-get-better mindset. He holds me accountable for things, and he works with me either on the ice or with video.”

That accountability has included making Poirier a healthy scratch this season.

“With our team here, it’s about accountability,” Love said to Calgary reporters via the team’s website in January after Poirier sat out. “You don’t perform, you don’t play. That’s plain and simple. Our guys know that internally.

“It makes us a competitive hockey team. Jeremie is a big part of our hockey team.”

That individual approach bleeds over into the Wranglers’ collective identity as they gear up for what could be a long Calder Cup Playoff run.

“We have a good skill team,” Poirier noted, “but we also work really hard.”