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.
Let's say you find yourself alone with the goalie.
You just just managed to recover a pass from a teammate, deflecting the puck along your skate blade up to your stick. The net is just a few feet from you. You aren't in the best shooting position, but those kind of opportunities are golden; you won't need much power if you can find an opening to slip the puck through. Trying your luck with a quick shot surely becomes the most enticing option.
But not if you're Ryan Poehling and you have eyes in the back of your head.
A glimpse of Easton Brodzinski accelerating behind him was enough for the first-rounder to have full confidence that he would be able to reach him on the other side of the net.
Even in a precarious position, with the puck far out of his body, Poehling managed to cross his hands to slide the puck across, giving his teammate a completely deserted cage to shoot at.
The defender, who is usually taking away the pass on a scenario like this, never really expected that it would be attempted, and instead tried his best to disturb a shot that never came. He left the lane open for what became one of the best assists of the season so far for Poehling.
Ryan Poehling, C, St. Cloud Huskies
Poehling had a quiet game on Friday, a contest the Huskies won 5-3 against Omaha.
But the next day, the centreman came alive and was involved in plenty of offensive chances, including the above play. He tallied a second assist on the man advantage that wasn't as impressive, but still came off a behind-the-back pass to his blue-liners for a point shot that found the back of the net.
As seen in the clip, Poehling was tried in the middle of the ice in the St. Cloud power-play formation, in a role where quick passes and pivots are necessary skills. While he is usually adept at one-touch feeds, he isn't as comfortable or accurate shooting from awkward or narrow angles like some others on his team.
The strength he does have in this position is his ability to tip shots. Almost the entirety of his highlight reel last year were deflections, as he used this talent to score most of his goals while adjusting to the league. Considering this, placing him there might still be worth a shot for St. Cloud.
Poehling had more than a couple of scoring chances in that game. While he remains not the most deft finisher, he came close to scoring his eighth goal of the season at the end of the first period. A total that would have him surpass last year's production.
He received a pass at the offensive blue line and pulled off a very impressive move before getting the puck on net. He was a bit off balance and couldn't put his full power into the shot, but he still didn't hesitate to place himself in a situation where he had to beat most of the other team's defence. And he almost came out on top attempting to do so.
Poehling also got a second chance a few minutes later by playing off of his known tendency to pass first, locking his eyes on the teammate that joined him on the rush. This allowed him to reach a prime scoring area. Unfortunately, the wrister he fired rang off the crossbar.
The Habs prospect is skilled at misdirecting opponents with his head and body alignment, and he has been displaying this ability a lot since the start of the season. But he still has to work on his elusiveness to push his offensive game to the next level. He has shown that he's also capable of manipulating opponents feet at times, but isn't doing so consistently.
In the clip above, he's making his way up the boards and leaves himself enough distance from it to cut back in the reverse direction once the defender closes on him above the dots. This way, he distances himself and creates a lane to the net for a shot. This move also forces a second player to leave his position to try and stop him.
If his teammates were in better scoring position, it would have likely meant that one of them would have been abandoned by a defender now forced to go on Poehling, giving a potential dangerous option to the best passer on St. Cloud.
While this is an instance of him doing this well, there's a lot of other examples where Poehling waits too long before changing direction while the defender is gaining on him.
As he isn't able to cut away as abruptly as some other more powerful skaters, and as he took too long to pick up the puck along the boards and look up to see the pressure already on him, he got stuck in a board battle from what was an occasion to establish possession for his team.
These are some details the first-rounder could work on to better separate from opponents. Using his ability to anticipate the play and his great awareness of the ice to his advantage. It would help him gain more time with the puck in the offensive zone, break free from the opposing defence, and create switches in coverage that would let him find teammates in scoring area with his passing ability even more.
The St. Cloud Huskies have had no trouble putting pucks in the net this whole season, but after falling in the rankings these past few weeks, facing some less imposing opponents in the next few games could help them regain their dominant appearance.
It could also provide Poehling with an occasion to attempt some new ways to drive his team’s offence and try some things he might be less comfortable with, keeping his growth as a player in mind. Rarely do you get such chance during the season, but the scoreboard cushion St. Cloud should work with in those games could make it one of those opportunities.
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||2||0||2||2|
NCAA/USHL season to date
|Jake Evans||C||Big Ten||Notre Dame||28||9||22||31|
|Ryan Poehling||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||22||7||14||21|
Goalies weekly performance
Goalies season to date