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), collegiate (USHL, NCAA), and professional (ECHL) level.
Change to Catching The Torch's format
We are testing something new for Catching The Torch. The coverage will now be split over two days, with CHL prospects highlighted on Tuesday, with a review of the NCAA prospects the next day. This is done in order to allow for more in-depth spotlights of some of the lesser known Habs youngsters.
The St. Cloud State Huskies, the number-one team in the nation last week, faced their biggest challenge on the weekend, visiting the Denver Pioneers. Denver recently dropped to the number-three spot in the rankings after being upset by Western Michigan. The Huskies, remaining undefeated, ascended to take their spot.
It was a very important matchup for both teams, each wanting to prove they were the best in US college hockey. Rankings change often in a season, but a win over Denver would have made St. Cloud State early favourites for the NCAA championship.
Unfortunately, the Huskies came up short, losing the series 2-0, despite their best efforts. The Pioneers, playing at home, looked like the more dominant team throughout.
Now, on this week's rankings, Denver and St. Cloud State occupy the first and second spot, respectively.
Ryan Poehling #11, St. Cloud State Huskies
Poehling was left pointless during the weekend. It looks like he might have brushed the puck right before it went in Denver's net on one of the goals his team scored, but it has not been credited to him yet.
His best chance of the series came while his team was short-handed. Robby Jackson intercepted a pass from a Denver defenceman and immediately relayed the puck to Poehling, who recognized the opportunity and jumped up the ice to get a breakaway out of it.
He split the defenders while receiving, but never could establish enough separation from them to get an undisputed one-on-one attempt against the goalie. He managed to kick the puck to his stick to at least get the shot off, but it wasn't enough to beat Tanner Jaillet.
Poehling had a few other opportunities, one on which he showed great poise with the puck, but revived some of the concerns about him not using his shot enough.
Mikey Eyssimont forced a zone entry and dropped the puck to Poehling in the slot, where a quick release might have been his best play in the situation, but the Habs’ first-rounder decided otherwise.
He forced the defenders into going down in a blocking position by looking straight at the net while he made his way to the side of the crease. The goalie also expected the shot and brought one of his pads down, leaving enough space for Poehling to slide a pass across the goal line to Jacob Benson. Unfortunately, Benson couldn't free his stick to tip the puck in.
Poehling has a tendency to look for a pass in situations where the overwhelming majority of players would fire at the net. That being said, there is still a major improvement in that area this season. He recorded six shots versus Denver on Friday and he's on pace for around 80 this year.
This is a big contrast to the 37 he had last year. He's now looking to drive the net more, something he did last week and again this weekend, even drawing a penalty after beating a defender one-on-one.
He's a year older and will only get stronger, able to use his body to shield the puck from defenders to help him use his playmaking abilities.
No matter what, Poehling continues to be a strong presence in the defensive zone. He easily understands where he needs to position himself to support his defencemen and cut the options of opposing forwards on the cycle.
His defensive reads, his stick work, and his knack to anticipate passes and player movements make him an incredible asset for St. Cloud State, even when he doesn't put his name on the scoreboard.
Cayden Primeau #31, Northeastern Huskies
It has been a season of ups and downs for the Habs’ seventh-rounder. He recorded a shutout to start the season, but didn't get a start for two weeks at the end of October when he posted a 0.600 save percentage versus Quinnipiac University.
He earned back some game time when he came in in relief versus Boston University on November 4, and didn't allow a single goal in the third period. He started the two games Northeastern had last weekend.
Primeau's Huskies are the 12th-ranked team in the NCAA. They are a powerhouse offensively, scoring 4.30 goals per game — tops in the league ahead of Denver and St. Cloud State — and they also have a defence corp that has worked pretty well since the beginning of the season.
In his first few games, the youg goalie rarely saw more than 20 shots. It's only recently that he has been called upon to give his team a chance to win as Northeastern's schedule got harder.
On Friday, Primeau had his best performance of the season. He faced 34 shots and only allowed one goal for a 0.971 save percentage, when Northeastern hosted the other dogs of the NCAA: the Boston University Terriers.
There were a lot of gloves flashing in that game, but the Habs goalie made most of his saves by being square to the puck, moving calmly from side to side while remaining on his feet. He went down early on a few occasions, but had no trouble tracking the puck in part due to the effective defence of Northeastern. Few shots were screened and most came from the periphery.
His best saves came in the middle of the third period. Primeau has an ability to cut passes to the front of the net with his stick, and he once again acted like a defender on a cross-crease pass, preventing a dangerous scoring chance.
The puck unfortunately bounced in his crease, but he still managed to save the resulting shot and deflect the puck high behind his net with the top of his blocker.
The only goal came from a screened point shot. Primeau completely lost track of it and was trying to look over the shoulders of the opposing player in front of him when the puck went past him.
Here's a compilation of some of his saves on Friday. For a goalie who was stapled to the bench for a while, he looked very solid out there, and showed confidence in key moments.
NCAA/USHL weekly performance
|Jake Evans||C||Big Ten||Notre Dame||2||0||1||1|
|Ryan Poehling||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||2||0||0||0|
Jake Evans has been the most productive scorer in the NCAA for a couple of weeks now, keeping his lead over Troy Terry of Denver University. He was also at the top of the league in a bunch of other categories going into Notre Dame's series against Penn State.
This weekend, the Irish won both games against the Nittany Lions, pushing them up the rankings to the fourth spot. Evans picked up an assist on Friday, on a beautiful pass to Andrew Oglevie, who just got back in the lineup.
He tried to set up his right-winger earlier on the same play for a shot in the slot, but it was deflected aside by Penn State's goalie. After his defenceman picked up the puck and rimmed it deep into the zone, Evans got another chance at finding Oglevie, who this time found the back of the net.
NCAA/USHL season to date
|Jake Evans||C||Big Ten||Notre Dame||12||4||15||19|
|Ryan Poehling||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||9||3||7||10|
The Nanooks faced Ferris State on Saturday and Nikolas Koberstein scored the game-winning goal on Saturday, halfway through the third period. It was his first of the season. Koberstein was left pointless in his four previous games.
Weekly goalie performances
Hayden Hawkey fended off 61 of the 66 shots he faced this week against the University of Massachussetts. In his last five starts, he has not had a game below a .910 save percentage.
Season goaltending stats
Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.