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Catching The Torch: NCAA Habs prospects — Looking at the skills that make Ryan Poehling a shoo-in for Team USA

Stats, highlights, and updates on the Montreal Canadiens prospects from the past week.

United States v Canada - Gold Medal Game - 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

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.

Ryan Poehling has been named to the U.S National Junior Team preliminary roster. It's an incredible honour for any young player, and that means that it's likely we will see the Habs’ first-rounder play in this winter’s World Junior Hockey Championship.

The head coach of St. Cloud State, Bob Motzko, also occupies the same role with the American squad. But that doesn't mean that Poehling was chosen because of their affiliation.

The fact that Poehling can be easily trusted for hard defensive matchups, which is not the case for every forward named to the preliminary roster, made him an easy choice for selection.

He has a way of controlling the game, limiting the offence of the opposing team and supporting his teammates all over the ice. He is more often than not right where he needs to be, and that would please any coach.

He had a sequence on Friday night highlighting these skills, called to action when one of his wingers didn't arrive in time at the defensive blue line to get the puck out of the zone. An opposing player won the race and kept it in, but Poehling came down and intercepted the pass, allowing him to carry the offence the other way for his team.

In the following clip, his defenceman has retrieved the puck low in the zone, and Poehling prepares himself to swing up the ice, but he doesn't jump ahead of the forming play. He waits to see how it would develop.

When the puck was lost, he was a few feet away from picking it back up, and with a few stickhandling moves he got around the forecheckers and reached his winger with a pass at the opposite side of the ice.

That is as clean of a breakout as you could ask for from one guy doing all the work.

In the World Junior showcase tournament this summer, Poehling was used a lot on the penalty kill, often winning important battles to get the puck out of the zone, and that’s a role he should reprise with the final edition of the US team.

This weekend, he created a breakaway by jumping on a loose puck and knocking it out of the defenceman's reach. He then out-skated the other defender to get a one-on-one chance with the goalie.

This ability to outwork others makes him a constant threat, and not just in the defensive zone. His latest assist was acquired with a second effort on the forecheck, when he snuck behind a defenceman that clearly thought he had shaken the Habs prospect, only to see him cut the breakout pass a couple of seconds later.

Poehling also has some obvious finesse to his game that could complement the highly talented scorers on the US team. He's a playmaker who knows how to manipulate opposing defenders into giving him space to feed his passes through.

He could pick up more than his fair share of points paired with the some of the best young shooters in the nation.

In the clip above, Poehling kept his eyes toward the net and hid his intention of making a cross-ice pass right until he executed it. The Omaha player covering that pass had no idea what Poehling was about to do and was just flailing his stick around hoping it would catch the puck. It didn't, and that resulted in a great scoring chance for Blake Lizotte.

And if all his other abilities fail him, Peohling can sit in front of the net and deflect pucks with his bottom. If that's not the sign of a versatile player, I don't know what is.

Prospect Spotlight

Cayden Primeau, G, Northeastern Huskies

It’s a good time to be a Habs seventh-rounder playing Division I hockey. Jake Evans is still the top NCAA scorer with a growing lead in points, and Cayden Primeau is adjusting very well at Northeastern University.

The goalie was just named Rookie of the Week for his back-to-back performances versus Merrimack College.

Primeau posted identical .966 save percentages and won both games. Only two pucks found the back of his net, now giving him the second-best goals-against average in Hockey East, and the best among freshman netminders.

It seemed like the Habs took a chance on him in the late round, but it's not unusual for goalies to be overlooked in the draft. Montreal trading up to get him suggests that Trevor Timmins and the rest of the scouts saw something in him, and they strongly believed in his development chances.

Primeau is an athletic goaltender, and that gives him an advantage when he's battling one-on-one with opposing players in front of his crease. He can extend his pads and solidly cover the bottom of the net.

He's also a good skater who uses his edges to effortlessly move from side to side, and can do so in an explosive way with his leg movements. In the game I managed to catch on Friday, Northeastern’s defence was on point with limiting cross-ice passes, and Primeau didn't have to showcase that ability too much.

The Habs prospect showed good rebound control in that game. There were a few pucks that were deflected to the front of the net that his defencemen easily cleared, but most went to the corners.

Primeau completely absorbed some powerful shots from up close, not letting Merrimack capitalize on pucks falling right in front of the crease. He also sealed the short side of his net well, even wrapping his leg around the post on one occasion to make sure no shot could slide past him.

Finding pucks in scrambles was generally no trouble for him after Merrimack repeatedly tried to bang in pucks from close angles.

Primeau is a goalie who relies on positioning first and foremost. He's aggressive while challenging shots with his heels at the top of the blue paint whenever he can. It seems to work very well for him, and this way, he can cut off angles and rely on his skating to readjust to a pass.

While he's very much upright while tracking the puck most of the game, he has no problem getting low to cover more space when the play gets closer to him.

He made one of his best saves this way. He went high in the crease and leaned forward to challenge a point shot, catching the puck easily with his glove.

The only goal he allowed on Friday came while his team was killing a major penalty at the end of the third period. With a heavy screen in front of him, he looked to one side of the player standing of front of him and only caught a glimpse of the puck flying in to the opposite side. It was the only time his play-tracking failed him during the game.

Primeau's recent performances mean that Northeastern's net is his for the foreseeable future. He has bounced back after a rough start to the season, only finishing below a .900 save percentage once in his last five games played.

Backstopped by the Habs goalie, Northeastern is now a top-10 NCAA team, and sitting just one spot behind Providence and Hayden Hawkey in ninth.

NCAA/USHL weekly performance

Player Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Player Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Jake Evans C Big Ten Notre Dame 2 1 2 3
Nikolas Koberstein RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 2 0 1 1
Ryan Poehling C NCHC St. Cloud State 1 1 1 2
Casey Staum LD USHL Dubuque 1 0 0 0

NCAA/USHL season to date

Player Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Player Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Jake Evans C Big Ten Notre Dame 18 7 21 28
Nikolas Koberstein RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 16 1 6 7
Ryan Poehling C NCHC St. Cloud State 12 4 11 15
Casey Staum LD USHL Dubuque 12 0 2 2

Jake Evans had yet another three-point weekend and Notre Dame claimed two wins against Michigan State — a conference match-up — to push their streak to 11 games. This is the team's longest stretch without a loss since February 13, 1988. The Irish have also won 12 of their last 13 contests.

Goalies weekly performance

Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Hayden Hawkey NCAA Providence 1-1-0 1.51 0.938 0
Cayden Primeau NCAA Northeastern 2-0-0 2.00 0.966 0
Michael McNiven ECHL Brampton 1-0-0 2.96 0.885 0

Goalies season performance

Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Hayden Hawkey NCAA Providence 9-6-0 2.47 0.912 2
Cayden Primeau NCAA Northeastern 5-3-1 2.06 0.920 1
Michael McNiven ECHL Brampton 0-2-1 4.19 0.868 0

Michael McNiven is back between the posts for the Brampton Beasts. He won his first game stopping 23 of 26 shots.

It has been a rocky season for McNiven and his time with the Laval Rocket was a reflection of that.

However, not all of it can be attributed to him, as both Laval and Brampton have put up less-than-effective defence in front of him. He faced an abnormally large number of high-danger scoring chances, but that is something it seems he will need to get used to.

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