Last year, Ryan Poehling burst onto the professional scene with a hat trick and shootout winner in the final game of the year against the Toronto Maple Leafs. On Friday night in Rochester, Poehling broke his stick on a breakaway chance in the opening ten seconds of an AHL game.
“That’s just kind of the way my season has went this year” Poehling said with a laugh after the game.
It hasn’t been easy for Poehling, but it isn’t through any lack of effort on his part. Dating back to the preseason it seems like he’s had roadblocks of every variety this year. He suffered an injury in the preseason, and while playing fantastic hockey, lost his spot to Nick Suzuki who took the chance and ran with it. Yet, Poehling knew it wasn’t going to be easy and has taken his ever-changing roles in stride.
He’s been on the wing, he’s been at centre, he’s been on the third line, and on Friday he was on the Rocket’s top line with Yannick Veilleux and Kevin Lynch in place of the ill Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
“It’s a big thing, to be able to play all over” Poehling said “Veezy (Veilleux) and Lynchy (Lynch) are great players, and they’ve been hot so they definitely help.”
The top line for Laval was everywhere in Rochester, and the poor luck wasn’t just on Poehling’s shoulders, with Veilleux missing a gaping net late in the game that would have given Laval the lead, likely changing the outcome of what ended up a 4-2 loss. Yet, there wasn’t any quit in the team as the full buy-in is apparent in the Rocket lineup.
“No matter who is in the lineup on any given night we know the system, and know that it’s next man up at any time.”
That “Next Man Up” mantra is getting its use in Laval this year as the team, in the span of two weeks, has lost two top-four defenders and it’s entire top line to call ups, injuries or illness. With Kotkaniemi not well enough to play, Bouchard entrusted the biggest minutes of the night to Poehling and his linemates, and he looked quite smart for it as the trio of Poehling, Veilleux and Lynch were visible in the best possible way on the night. With a big game looming against Utica as well, the rookie forward has a simple mindset on how to be at his best in a big game.
“We just have to keep doing what we did tonight. We did a lot of the right things but couldn’t get the bounce here or there that we needed.” Poehling explained “If we keep playing like the past five or six games where we’ve played really good hockey we can capitalize on those opportunities.”
Opportunity is a big thing right now in Laval, and Poehling knows that, with the team in flux due to the call ups and injuries he had one clear goal for the rest of this season.
“I want to be a leader on this team, I want to be the guy the coach can trust up or down a goal in any situation.”
Given his recent play, Poehling is well on his way to that goal. Even with some bumps in the road, he hasn’t let that deter him from the path he wants to be on.