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Catching The Torch: Ryan Poehling’s offence ramping up

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

2017 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Stacy Revere/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) and collegiate (NCAA) level.

Ryan Poehling’s two games at the end of October against Boston College and Northeastern University were an early low point in the season for the Habs’ centre prospect. He failed to produce in front of his NHL general manager and couldn’t bounce back in the next contest, being left off the scoresheet once again. Since then, he has upped his production in a major way.

He has seven points in his last four games. That gives him 12 in 10, which is closer to the production that is expected out of him, and more importantly, to the objective he has set for himself.

The point-per-game mark is the aim this season. He made the statement, and now he needs to back it up. But having a goal known by the public is not necessarily added pressure, but a way to establish a clear focus for an athlete with a competitive mind.

Poehling wants to drive offence for the St. Cloud State Huskies, getting further and further away from the label of a defensive centre that was affixed to him after he was drafted. He is now tied for the scoring lead on the team. As not every matchup is made equal in the NCAA, he should get his chances to boost his numbers even more. That will be the case in the next two weeks, when the powerhouse that is St. Cloud will face Bemidji State and Miami University before going on to a holiday break.

Even if Poehling has been playing relatively good since the start of the season, there is another level for him to reach. We saw it at times last season and in those early few games — a few shifts here and there — especially against Northern Michigan University.

The Habs prospect has always been a good creator off the rush. Now he’s attacking the middle more than before to open space for his teammates, displacing the defence, forcing pokechecks in his direction, only to drop a pass to a shooter a few feet behind with a lane to the net, or using the defenders as screens for a release of his own. Yet his work in traffic in the offensive zone, when his team is already installed and looking to get an opportunity off of the cycle, is where the extra offence could be found for Poehling.

Despite all of his qualities, and his great improvements since his first year, the centre remains an unstable skater when the puck is in his feet along the wall. He is not explosive, and unlike some other shifty forwards he can’t really escape pressure as easily with his edgework in tight spots.

A player’s game can be refined to get a better success rate on the plays he can make, but with the objective of manufacturing more offence, it would be even more productive of Poehling to use the significant practice time that the NCAA season offers to work on those weaknesses; to add to his game and become a more threatening forward with his back to the play.

Take this sequence from a game this weekend:

Poehling is coming up the wall with a defender on his back. That defender is doing his job, which is pushing the St. Cloud player up to a lower-danger area near the blue line. As Poehling crosses the imaginary line at the top of the circles, he realizes that he is getting too high and close to his own defenceman with few good options available. He decides to try a cutback, which fails due to the defender’s presence.

If Poehling wants to do a more effective cutback here, which is a good tactic to evade pressure, there are a few things he has to work on.

First, he needs to be in full control of the puck. He lost it for a few seconds and it diminished his options against the defender. Second, he needs to feel where the pressure is coming from for the defender to see if a cutback is open. If that defender is on his right shoulder, he has that option.

Then, it’s time for Poehling to get off the boards by making the defender think he will attack the middle. This will get that defender to protect the higher-danger area and leave enough room between Poehling and the wall for the prospect to turn back into. In other words, he has to sell his cutback with a fake, by, for example, turning his shoulder quickly towards the slot, before turning back towards the wall.

Lastly, he has to get lower on his skates during the manoeuvre to explode out of his turn.

This is a skill progression that can be worked on and would help Poehling generate offence from the wall, where he will spend a lot of time in the NHL. It is especially important as he is not as exposed to that facet of the play right now on St. Cloud’s ice, as it is larger than the traditional North American surface.

One of the adversaries Poehling faced this weekend is quite good at evading pressure despite his inexperience in the NCAA. Brett Stapley, the Canadiens’ seventh-round pick in 2018, is already up to eight points in eight games, which is impressive for a freshman — even if he is the same age as Poehling, having been drafted in his second year of eligibility.

Stapley is quite elusive on his skates. He is not Jesse Ylönen, but he has a good sense of timing and he can escape defenders with his agility.

Brett Stapley wears #7 with the Denver Pioneers (in red).

There are a few good things that Stapley does in the above sequence. He retrieves the puck and he drives his body into the defender’s, giving himself space to cut back by doing this. Plus, he gets low on his skates to make the move more effective. As he goes up the wall, he also angles his skates slightly to the middle before turning the other way, again violating expectations and creating space to move back into.

He is mostly showing his offensive skills on the power play right now, but his agility, good passing skills, and hands should have him make a bigger impact at 5-on-5 as he gains experience.

Stapley already had a few notable sequences this week at even strength. He scored on a breakaway after intercepting a pass from a St. Cloud defenceman, and he set up one of his linemates with a precise feed after circling the net.

Poehling responded with a few passes of his own. One came on an offensive rush where he lifted the puck above a few sticks. It landed perfectly on a friendly stick to be redirected in. Another one was made on the power play, faking everyone advancing from below the goal line to make a pass across the defensive box.

Watch Poehling’s shoulders and head on the play. He is looking at the blue line, and his blade is also angled for a pass there. He only gives an indication of what he really wants to do to the opposing defence at the last second.

Watch the top highlights of the Stapley vs. Poehling duel this weekend.

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

CHL weekly performance

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Joël Teasdale FA LW QMJHL Blainville-Boisbriand 2 0 2 2
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 3 0 0 0
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 2 0 1 1
Allan McShane 2018 LW/C OHL Oshawa 2 0 0 0
Nick Suzuki 2017 C/RW OHL Owen Sound 2 3 2 5
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Prince Albert 1 0 0 0
Jarret Tyszka 2017 LD WHL Seattle Injured
Scott Walford 2017 LD WHL Victoria 2 1 1 2
Josh Brook 2017 RD WHL Moose Jaw 1 0 1 1

CHL season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Joël Teasdale FA LW QMJHL Blainville-Boisbriand 20 9 13 22
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 21 5 9 14
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 19 3 9 12
Allan McShane 2018 LW/C OHL Oshawa 13 3 5 8
Nick Suzuki 2017 C/RW OHL Owen Sound 18 16 14 30
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Prince Albert 18 5 9 14
Jarret Tyszka 2017 LD WHL Seattle Injured
Scott Walford 2017 LD WHL Victoria 14 1 6 7
Josh Brook 2017 RD WHL Moose Jaw 13 5 11 16

NCAA weekly performance

Player Draft Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Hockey East Wisconsin 2 1 0 1
Brett Stapley 2018 C WCHA Denver 2 1 2 3
Ryan Poehling 2017 C NCHC St. Cloud State 2 0 4 4
Nikolas Koberstein 2014 RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 2 0 1 1
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 2 0 0 0

NCAA season to date

Player Draft Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Hockey East Wisconsin 10 1 1 2
Brett Stapley 2018 C WCHA Denver 8 2 6 8
Ryan Poehling 2017 C NCHC St. Cloud State 10 3 9 12
Nikolas Koberstein 2014 RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 10 0 1 1
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 10 1 2 3

Goalie weekly performance

Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Cayden Primeau NCAA Northeastern 2-0-0 3.00 0.902 0

Goalie season to date

Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Cayden Primeau NCAA Northeastern 6-3-1 2.67 0.909 1