It wasn’t a World Junior Hockey Championship performance for Ryan Poehling. He didn’t explode for a natural hat trick as he had against a formation built of the best Swedish Junior players in the World, but St. Cloud State’s game against Minnesota Duluth on Friday was still host to a very determined centreman. He was eager to put in a performance fueled by his disappointing end to the Under-20 Tournament.
We usually see a dip in performance after such an emotionally charged event for the skaters who participate. They battled to keep the hopes of their respective nations alive, and gave every ounce of their energy to win it all. No matter the result — great victory, or crushing defeat — it usually takes some time for the top prospects to return to a top level of play.
Fortunately, Poehling had a week to rest and reflect on his experience. It showed in his play on the weekend. He looked dialed-in from his first few shifts of the game.
After losing a faceoff, he stayed high on the play reading the forecheck. The puck was retrieved by St. Cloud and passed to the point. The Habs forward then skated to the front of the net, timing himself with a blue-line shot to tip the puck.
It went to the corner. He picked it up, missed his pass, but immediately hunted it back down, using his body to separate a Minnesota Duluth attacker from it. His team regained possession, entered the zone, and, once again, Poehling flew back to the front of the net, arriving at the perfect time for another tip opportunity.
This whole shift was a display of Poehling’s will to create offence and his sense of timing. With slightly more luck, he could have opened the scoring for St. Cloud early in the game.
Unfortunately, the points remained elusive for the centre, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Some of the plays that Poehling orchestrated, both for himself and for others, were highlight-reel worthy. He exploited defensive lapses and the space given to him in impressive ways.
Two displays stood out.
On the first one, Poehling evaded a defender in the neutral zone with a spin-move, skated across the offensive blue and — like he usually does — cut across to the centre of the ice, looking straight in front of him. With his peripheral vision, he spotted one of his teammates circling behind the defence, and threaded the puck to him. It created a one-on-one chance with the goalie for the attacker that unfortunately wasn’t converted.
On the second play, Poehling took matters fully into his own hands. He accelerated out of the zone and received a pass with his feet, bumping the puck up to his stick. He attacked the defender at the offensive blue line while staying in range of a stick-check, baiting him. He opened up, brought the puck in a pass-across position, and the defender lunged for the puck —- exactly what Poehling wanted.
Using a move he probably practised a lot, he lobbed the puck above the defender’s stick, and it slid between the legs of the opponent upon landing. Poehling went around the defender, regained control of the puck, and got his stick in the inside lane to shoot on net.
He can pull off the occasional skill play like the ones above. He has good enough hands and is not afraid to be bold, especially this season. But, like in many other games, he was walking a fine line between success and turnover against Minnesota Duluth, his attempts resulting in both over the course of the game.
Poehling is not a high-end skater. He lacks a dominant speed element to create a difference in momentum between himself and the line of defence, making the moves he attempts easier to counter by opposing defenders.
Plus, he often doesn’t use weight shifts as fakes to enable him to go through the defence. By angling his body to one side with crossovers, he can have defenders move to counter him on that side, opening space on the other for him to break into as he enters the zone. Instead, we see him only using his hands to try and thread the puck through, which is often less effective.
The players most effective at offensive-zone entries don’t just use their sticks to dangle the defence, but also their skates, sending false signals to the defence and using a speed difference to abuse positional mistakes.
It’s a good thing that Poehling is trying to expand what he is capable of doing on the ice. It is exactly why he is in the NCAA again this year: to push his game to another level and join the Habs with a more complete toolbox next year.
But simpler plays like in the first sequence are just as strong offensive showings for him, and had as much chance of resulting in a goal. They are also plays that will most likely translate a lot more to the NHL level for the player that he is.
Poehling didn’t record a point this weekend. He finished his first night as a -2 despite having been a major contributor to his team’s struggling offence, being double-shifted at the end of the game and having nothing to do with either of two goals against; the result of horrible turnovers by his defence. Sometimes statistics don’t reflect a performance. It wasn’t a perfect game, but still a pretty good one for Poehling.
On Saturday, he was once again tried with his two brothers as the coaching staff of St. Cloud looked to shake things up after the shutout the team suffered the night before. The results were no different than the last time it was tried. The Poehlings might share a last name, but have shown that they don’t really belong on a line together. They can’t create as much offence and spend a lot of time in their zone trying to get on the attack.
If he is to maintain and surpass a point-per-game mark, he will need more offensively skilled wingers to drive up the ice with him and complete his passes, like Robby Jackson. Otherwise, reaching the objective at the end of the season might become a lot harder for the Habs prospect. Through the evolution of his game, he remains a setup man first and foremost.
Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.
CHL weekly performance
|Nick Suzuki||2017||C/RW||OHL||Owen Sound||3||1||7||8|
|Cole Fonstad||2018||LW||WHL||Prince Albert||3||2||1||3|
|Josh Brook||2017||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||3||0||3||3|
CHL season to date
|Nick Suzuki||2017||C/RW||OHL||Owen Sound||33||23||30||53|
|Cole Fonstad||2018||LW||WHL||Prince Albert||43||16||28||44|
|Josh Brook||2017||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||30||9||30||39|
NCAA weekly performance
|Jack Gorniak||2018||LW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||0||0||0||0|
|Ryan Poehling||2017||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||2||0||0||0|
|Jordan Harris||2018||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||2||0||0||0|
NCAA season to date
|Jack Gorniak||2018||LW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||20||2||5||7|
|Ryan Poehling||2017||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||18||3||14||17|
|Jordan Harris||2018||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||19||1||6||7|
Cayden Primeau’s weekly performance
Cayden Primeau’s season to date