Catching The Torch: Ryan Poehling learning from Auston Matthews’s power-play work

<em>Stats, highlights, and updates on the Montreal Canadiens prospects from the past week.</em>

Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Habs prospects playing at the junior (OHL, WHL) and collegiate (USHL, NCAA) level.

While watching the broadcast of the St. Cloud State Huskies this weekend, the analysts revealed something very interesting regarding Ryan Poehling. The coaching staff are reportedly working with him to improve his ability to quarterback the team’s power play from the half-wall. They would like for him to diversify his plays, using Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs as the model.

The Leafs have one of the best power plays in the game. Matthews isn’t the primary quarterback of it, but he mans the same position as Poehling, has the same handedness, and St. Cloud operates in a similar configuration as Toronto.

Poehling looks for the cross-ice pass the majority of the time when he receives the puck at his designated position. He is a great passer and can often thread the puck through or over opposing sticks to reach his teammate for one-timers at the opposite faceoff circle.  It remains a difficult pass to make, especially when the pre-game scouting has noted this tendency of his and the opposition is prepared for it.

St. Cloud would like Poehling to use other options — that can be just as threatening — more regularly. On their power play, there is a forward situated on the near post, ready to attack from the goal line, and the booming point shot of Jimmy Schuldt, one of the most lethal weapons in the NCAA. Plus, Poehling can reach another player in the middle of the ice for a one-timer, or shoot the puck himself.

The main tool of a great playmaker is deception, or fooling opponents to open plays by violating expectations. Ideally, with time and space, a playmaker at the top of his game should leave no indication to the defence as to what he wants to do. Unreadable and giving out false signals, he places the defence into an unwinnable situation.

If defenders block the shooting lane, the near-post pass becomes available. If they cover the near post, it opens the pass across. If they take away the pass across, it opens space for a release. There is always a good outlet.

This is why diversifying the plays he makes is important for Poehling. By keeping the defence guessing, it becomes easier for him to find the sticks of his teammates for dangerous chances. Otherwise, if he primarily uses one option over the other, defenders can rely on their expectations to correctly read him a higher percentage of the time.

Watch Auston Matthews in the clip below. He often receives the puck from his defenceman, just like Poehling, and assumes a shooting position by turning his feet quickly. From this stance, he represents the biggest threat as he can hit multiple different options.

Something that helps Matthews is that he isn’t the primary driver of the Leafs’ power play; Mitch Marner is. This allows Matthews to consistently position himself inside the dots as the opposing defensive box is stretched toward the other side of the ice, where Marner has drawn them. Poehling, as the main distributor, often has to play outside the dots, closer to the wall, and he doesn’t get as many occasions to pull off the quick passing plays that Matthews is able to.

That said, one thing he definitely can learn from his fellow American is the threat of a good shot. Poehling will never have a release equal to Matthews’s. The Leafs’ centreman is a rare talent who possesses arguably the best wrist shot in the world. But Poehling doesn’t need to copy the same quick-drag release to be effective in his spot on the power play. Simply by using his shot more, or even just threatening to shoot, he will open better scoring chances.

Ryan Poehling wears #11 with the St. Cloud State Huskies.

This is a sequence from this Saturday where he does just that. The play starts from the opposing side of the ice, so Poehling has an occasion to skate close to the dots, turn his feet upon receiving, fake a shot, and hit his teammate in the middle of the box for a redirect that almost beats the goalie.

A few seconds later, with the defensive pressure on his side of the ice once again, and taking advantage of an opponent who has lost his stick, Poehling slides the puck over to Schuldt, who scores.

Diversifying his passes, getting inside the dots, a more deceptive stance (being a threat to release more often), and, most importantly, a higher volume of shots, aren’t necessarily elements that are needed for Poehling to continue producing at the NCAA level — he can still fill a highlight reel on the power play — but with a professional career fast approaching, there are things that will help him translate his offence. They’re details that could make him a great playmaker at the next level.

Right now, Poehling is second in points on St. Cloud State with 17 in 16 games, but sits 11th in total shots. The leader in that category? Robby Jackson, Poehling’s linemate, who has a ridiculous 60 shots on net recorded to Poehling’s 26. This says a lot about how the duo operates on the ice: Poehling tends to refrain from shooting, preferring to find Jackson.

The Habs prospect’s first assist of the weekend was yet another pass to Jackson. Poehling, like the drilled centreman that he is, descended very low on the breakout, with his stick on the ice, to give a good outlet to his defenceman under forechecking pressure. He received the puck, lifted his head, and found Jackson flying through the neutral zone. The winger then showcased why he has one of the best shots off the rush in the NCAA.

The St. Cloud Huskies don’t play again until January, if you exclude an exhibition game against the U.S National Team Development Program’s under-18 squad on December 27. This contest will have two major absentees, as during that time both Ryan Poehling and Jack Hughes will be acting as the top two centres of Team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championship.

Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.

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Joël TeasdaleFALWQMJHLBlainville-Boisbriand30141832
Samuel Houde2018CQMJHLChicoutimi296915
Cam Hillis2018COHLGuelph2781220
Allan McShane2018LW/COHLOshawa2411920
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Cole Fonstad2018LWWHLPrince Albert31101323
Jarret Tyszka2017LDWHLSeattleInjured
Scott Walford2017LDWHLVictoria242911
Josh Brook 2017RDWHLMoose Jaw2592433

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Brett Stapley2018CWCHADenver2000
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Jack Gorniak2018LWBig TenWisconsin18235
Brett Stapley2018CWCHADenver143912
Ryan Poehling2017CNCHCSt. Cloud State1631417
Nikolas Koberstein2014RDWCHAAlaska-Fairbanks18066
Jordan Harris2018LDHockey EastNortheastern14156

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