Laval Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard doesn’t see the ebbs and flows of player development as ups and downs. He tells you that he sees that as facing adversity.
In that context, Ryan Poehling has faced a lot of adversity since being drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 2017, and even more specifically, since turning professional.
Poehling’s professional adversity has been documented, but performances like he showed in Monday’s 3-2 win over the Belleville Senators is displaying the growth he’s made in his second season.
He scored the game-winning goal with a great shot on the power play, and was on the ice defending a five-on-six in the game’s final minutes when the Senators pulled their goaltender.
Ryan Poehling with the snipe for his fourth goal of the season!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 15, 2021
3-2 Rocket! pic.twitter.com/nbKKxyL7Rs
When Poehling was sent down last year, Bouchard said multiple times that he wanted to drown out the noise from the media and fans who were asking when he would be back in the AHL. He wanted to coach him and we’re now starting to see the results.
“He’s going well,” Bouchard said. “It’s a process. He’s a good player, he’s not elite and when you’re not elite, you need to play a complete game.”
There were times last year where Bouchard would put Poehling on the wing to play with either Jake Evans or Jesperi Kotkaniemi. This year, he has been at centre.
“It’s tough to become an overall pro on every level,” Bouchard said. “He needs to keep growing like he’s doing right now. He needs to realize the responsibility of a centre. It’s a big deal.”
For his part, Poehling is also focusing on refining his game for when he gets his next chance at the NHL, having the opportunity to play a 200-foot game with Joel Teasdale and Joe Blandisi, along with penalty kill time.
“That’s the type of player I pride myself on and want to be,” he said. “Coach does a good job of helping me out and focusing on the little things I need to work on and I think I’m getting better with him every day. Just the little things in general [make] the player I want to be when I get the chance.”
Poehling started the year with two goals and two assists in his first 10 games, but has two goals and one assist in his last two. If you looked at the stats alone, you would think he wasn’t improving. The film showed otherwise, and he tries not to concern himself with the results.
“It’d be dumb to say no I don’t but you do to some extent,” Poehling said about whether he worried about his production. “For me, when you play the right way you see things work out your way. Last game on the power play I had that goal where it bounced off of two skates and it was lucky but there were two games earlier when I got no points but our line worked them all night. If you work the right way... sometimes things will go your way and bounces will happen.”
“He’s going to have to be a 200-foot player,” Bouchard said. “He’s going to contribute when it’s time, but especially being a centre it’s completely different than a winger. It becomes a lot of responsibility for a young player. There are going to be mistakes, and that’s normal. It’s not a big deal. I love his engagement, [Sunday] he had a great start, we had things to improve and he came back with another complete game [Monday].”
If you look at the Rocket lineup graphics, some people become concerned that Poehling is listed on the third line, behind Lukas Vejdemo and Jordan Weal. Bouchard, however, says he always has prospect development in mind — and not to read too much into the order.
“Third line... I’m not a guy like that,” Bouchard said. “I try to balance our lines. [...] Ryan plays power play on the second unit, he plays [shorthanded]. We need to stop looking at just Ryan. He’s playing 15-18 minutes a game. He’s not missing ice time.”
Poehling was also on the ice protecting a lead with the goaltender pulled against Toronto on Sunday, when the Marlies scored twice (once with Poehling on the ice) to come back from their 4-2 deficit. On Monday in the same situation, the team held on to their lead.
“[Sunday we made] young mistakes,” Bouchard said about his team in those situations. “Sometimes you need a hard lesson to understand.”
“One of the best lessons in life is experience,” Poehling said. “Since we got scored on, it was a good experience[...] We were not only prepared mentally but physically.”
The Rocket will now go on an eight game road trip to Calgary and Winnipeg to play four games each against the Stockton Heat and Manitoba Moose.