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Catching The Torch: Ryan Poehling turning skeptics into believers with goal of the year

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

Shanna Martin / Eyes on the Prize

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 level(USHL, NCAA).

The impressive season of 2017 first-rounder Ryan Poehling has shown that the Habs have a legitimate prospect down the middle in their system. The steep upward curve in Ryan Poehling’s development is slowly changing the perception of the 25th pick from a safe choice to one that could be very impactful in the Montreal Canadiens’ near future.

Still, the improvement in his performance isn’t enough to convince everyone. Poehling, despite centring the first line of the best team in college hockey and getting more than his fair share of points in the position, has the etiquette of a defence-first player; a steady presence in his zone with limited potential at the other end.

Sometimes you need to shake an impression all at once. A clear cut that leaves a before and an after. A statement in the form of a breakaway in which you replicate a move that is usually only tried in practice and pond hockey.

This is but a five-second moment in Poehling’s NCAA career, but its importance shouldn’t be understated. It reveals his skill, but, more than anything, a crushing confidence. And it is a stark contrast to the player he was just a year ago who refused to overstep in his supporting role and never really wanted the spotlight shone on him.

This goal doesn’t change Poehling’s identity, but it brings attention to his potential.

If you look at the extended sequence, you still see the solid defensive play of #11, with him following his man closely on the backcheck, making sure to eliminate the pass option for the puck-carrier as he descends and settles into his zone.

But as soon as he recognized an opportunity from the change of possession, he didn’t hesitate to jump up to receive the pass, escaping alone against the goalie and tying the game in a memorable way.

The St. Cloud State centre is still young to be a leader in the team, but performances like this weekend will go a long way into identifying him as such. He picked up where he left off in the overtime on Friday and scored the game-winning goal to edge out a Huskies victory over North Dakota, their division rival.

Poehling was recently on and off the first unit of the power play, back to a duty he was familiar with from last season: imposing himself in front of the net. While he doesn’t have the strength in battles of other players who find success in a similar spot (see Michael Pezzetta), his ability to find the puck in tight scrums — due to his hand-eye coordination, fast reaction time, and good stick placement — made the difference for his team in overtime.

On top of that, he also contributed to another goal earlier in the game by acting as a screen for the shot of Jimmy Schuldt, and scored again on Saturday by deflecting a puck in from the same spot. This first unit with Poehling’s presence seems like an effective recipe for coach Bob Motzko, and, considering the success it has had this weekend, one he likely will keep using.

As Poehling is now placed in a prime position to collect goals, this could lead to even more added to the stas line of the Habs prospect who already recorded two this weekend on the power-play, in addition to the one he had at five-on-five.

It’s important to note that he wasn’t in such favourable conditions before while being placed on the second unit, away from the most talented players on St. Cloud and given limited minutes with a man advantage. Most of his points were acquired at even-strength, making him among the best scorers in the NCAA in that category.

He now has 29 points in 30 games, continuing to be an almost point-per-game player for St. Cloud as their regular season ends, and the NCHC tournament begins with his team at the top of the division.

The playoffs route won’t be easy for the Huskies, even if they have shown that they can be a hard team to beat. Their top centreman will be called upon to shut down the other team’s best lines while maintaining his impressive production.

As always, it wouldn’t be a Poehling article without talking about his play away from the puck as it was often as impressive as his offensive displays this weekend.

Against North Dakota, his forechecking ability caused numerous turnovers and forced the opposition into constant sub-optimal choices. Acting as the lower man of the three forwards, he is able to read and anticipate breakout passes to jump up and intercept the puck. But he is also equally effective when he ends up as F1 — or the deepest player in the offensive zone — when he picks up speed and is rapidly on top of unsuspecting defencemen.

When he is not able to stop the breakout, he angles opponents to the boards, skating backwards against the rush, forcing them into dump-ins and even laying some hits when he can. The pride he takes in his neutral zone defence is a great help to his blue-liners, who often have only to retrieve uncontested pucks in the defensive zone.

Poehling has also grown to be a very effective player in transition, and one of the preferred options to carry the puck through the neutral zone when his team regroups in their own end. He picks up speed with quick crossovers, and with unexpectedly agile stickhandling is able to get around opponents. He then makes skillful passes to free teammates through a maze of sticks as the opposing defence closes on him.

This passing ability remains what is the most distinctive about him. When other players would throw away the puck in a contested area against incoming pressure, Poehling seems to always find a solution to get it to a teammate, be it by crossing his hands in limited space to give an unsuspected trajectory to the puck or threading the needle.

Poehling deserves the praise for his performance this weekend, but it obviously wasn’t perfect. He will become an even better puck-handler given time to perfect some aspects of his play. Seeing him as an immediate help for the big club would be the wrong approach. He is an evolving player, but one who needs to be in an environment where he can dominate, something he is starting to be doing more and more this NCAA season.

NHL Rank King on PNHLe: a player’s point production at their age, in a specific league, compared to previous NHL players rates.

No matter what happens in the NCHC tournament, his biggest challenge yet is coming with the Frozen Four. St. Cloud State possesses one of the locked spots for the tournament.

This should also be a chance for everyone to watch him closely as those games are often televised. Perhaps he’ll even show off another trick when you least expect it.

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

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 0 0 0 0
Nikolas Koberstein RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 2 0 0 0
Ryan Poehling C NCHC St. Cloud State 2 3 0 3
Casey Staum LD USHL Dubuque Injured

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 34 11 27 38
Nikolas Koberstein RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 36 1 11 12
Ryan Poehling C NCHC St. Cloud State 30 12 17 29
Casey Staum LD USHL Dubuque 18 0 3 3

Both Cayden Primeau and Hayden Hawkey had the week off.

Goalies season to date

Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Hayden Hawkey NCAA Providence 20-10-3 2.12 0.916 3
Cayden Primeau NCAA Northeastern 17-6-5 1.85 0.933 3