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 didn't stand out as much as some other NHL prospects at the World Junior Hockey Championship. A great pass to set up Brady Tkachuk in the match against Slovakia and a short-handed goal in the Bronze Medal Game were the two times he showed up in highlight reels.
But as one of the youngest members of the team, and taking on a more defensive role that often had him skating under the radar, he played like a veteran member of the team. This is just the start for Poehling, and a glimpse into his potential.
Ryan Poehling #4, C, Team USA
The Habs’ first-rounder was one of the most frequent penalty-killers for the US team, with often multiple presences in the same short-handed sequence. With the need to preserve a lead in the final few minutes, it was also him on the ice double-shifting.
Apart from a few lapses in his coverage of some of the quickest junior players in the world, his play away from the puck was solid throughout the tournament: cutting passing lanes with great stick placement, angling attackers to low-danger areas, following them closely deep in the zone while tying up sticks, and backchecking hard when the US went all-out on the offence.
Up a goal, instead of jumping on a 50/50 puck that had the potential to become a two-on-one against, he turned back and skated the other way with his man; a decision that allowed him to block the stick of the rushing opponent to nullify the scoring chance.
Poehling is not risk averse, but like he did with St. Cloud in his first year, he puts the team first and feels more comfortable propping up others. This is reflected in his identity as a playmaker and a pass-first guy who takes a lot of pride in his two-way play.
While Poehling deserves to have the spotlight shone on him for what he does on the ice, the tournament also exposed some elements that he will need to work on to push his game to the next level.
Strength and balance are issues for Poehling. While toughness is something that will at least partially fix itself with time, a solid ability to protect the puck in the narrower areas on the ice is a skill that he doesn't display consistently.
He often has the right idea, placing his body in front of the puck to guard it from opponents, and using his knees to shield his possession. The clip below is an example of him doing this well to squeak into the zone against the Swedes, coupled with a few nifty stickhandling moves.
But he isn't always able to stay firmly on his blades after making contact with defenders, either because he is not able to establish positioning over the puck or he is overpowered.
This is something he can easily work on and is likely aware of. It was clear that he was not one of the top skaters at the tournament, which is something that can be expected when it features some of the most dominant young players.
Poehling was still not left behind on many plays. His ever-present use of quick forward crossovers helped him keep up and fueled his 200-foot game.
He also showcased an agility that assisted him in gaining the offensive zone a few times.
In the clip below, he doesn't give himself much space to cross the blue line with possession, something he would have better achieved by faking a cut to the middle to force the defender away from the boards and creating a larger lane for him to get through.
However, by turning his skates a couple of times after entering, he makes his opponent expect a cut back at any moment and slow down. Poehling uses the defender's hesitation to gain a step on him, take the puck behind the net, and almost single-handedly set up the US power play in the offensive zone.
Poehling didn't have the striking offensive tools of some of USA’s top scorers, but he was still a right fit on the man advantage, bringing a different element to it. The multiple shot-passes that he attempted to teammates in front of the net came close to beating the opposing goalies.
As always, there were times when the St. Cloud State centreman should really just have wired the puck on net.
As he reprises his role on next year's edition of Team USA, his offensive contribution will increase. There's a long list of players who didn't stand out as much in their first chance on the national team that went on to leave their mark in the subsequent year, starting with Mathew Barzal and Thomas Chabot recently.
It was an incredible learning experience for Poehling, and he should be an improved player for it going forward. Finally getting some rest after a hard schedule of games, he will be able to go on with his excellent season with St. Cloud, where he will be called upon to help the team regain the top spot in the NCAA's power rankings, now occupied by Jake Evans and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Jake Evans, C, Notre Dame
Evans came close to scoring his eighth goal of the season on Sunday after one of his shots ringed off the post. The puck traveled along the goal line as it deflected to the corner.
The Irish captain has a precise release that he could use more often. He had a another great chance on Sunday off a long pass coming from the stick of Dennis Gilbert. It unfortunately left too much time to the opposing goalie to adjust before the shot, and Evans got robbed by a great glove save.
Evans is in a bit of a drought recently, left pointless in his last four games. After more than two months at the top of the NCAA in scoring, he lost his throne this past week.
He still has 10 more points than his next closest teammate, with 28 on the season, and is a staggering +17, far ahead of mostly everyone on a Notre Dame team that continues to be as dominant as ever. The Irish have just swept Michigan University in a home-and-home series en route to winning their 15th consecutive game.
The dream of being able to watch a Poehling versus Evans matchup in the Frozen Four is getting more real by the day.
Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.
NCAA/USHL weekly performance
|Jake Evans||C||Big Ten||Notre Dame||2||0||0||0|
|Ryan Poehling||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||1||0||0||0|
NCAA/USHL season to date
|Jake Evans||C||Big Ten||Notre Dame||22||7||21||28|
|Ryan Poehling||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||15||5||11||16|
Goaltenders weekly performance
Goaltenders season to date