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Catching The Torch: How Ryan Poehling drives offence from the forecheck

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

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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.

Omaha isn’t a powerhouse in the NCAA, and they were no match for St. Cloud — not many teams are. The Huskies are once again leading the nation and show no signs of slowing down in their mission to the reach the Frozen Four after falling short last year.

The team from Minnesota managed to score nine times over their back-to-back games against Omaha and only allowed one goal. Ryan Poehling put up two of those nine, bringing his season total to seven.

This number is only half of what he recorded last year, but as the first-rounder was sitting at only three goals a few weeks ago, the recent increase remains encouraging. Even more importantly, he continued his recent trend of being levels above everyone else on the ice on every one of his shifts.

After he was moved to be the centre for his brothers, there was an adjustment period for the prospect. At the beginning of last season, he was able to rely on Robby Jackson, a pure-shooter, to complement his pass-first style, though there were some expected ups and downs in the duos performance.

Now, Poehling has to adapt to a more north-south game to fit the identity of his new line. The good news is that the Montreal Canadiens’ centre prospect can also generate a lot of offence from this style of play, with effective transitions and intense pressure away from the puck.

Every time Poehling was on the ice this weekend, Omaha struggled to get the puck out of the zone. He was consistently accelerating to be right on their defencemen’s heels, making his presence felt and building up the pressure. As the defencemen tried to play the puck with their backs turned, Poehling forced rushed decisions from them.

He had the same success countering the opposition’s regoups after line changes or failed rushes. Poehling used his stick to close passing lanes to one side of the ice, and jumped up on opponents as soon as they turned to try to find another option on the other side. On more than one occasion, he managed to steal the puck this way.

The 20-year-old is not a freshman in the NCAA anymore. He has gotten stronger, and has learned to take advantage of his 6’2’’ stature to separate from opponents. He uses his stick reach to neutralize the opponent’s and, when possible, his body to pin them on the boards to free the puck for himself.

Poehling’s vision is a great complementary ability to his work on the forecheck. He sees the ice well, and knows what is open offensively as soon as he gets the puck on his stick. He can hit teammates in quiet spots in the opposing defensive structure and give them great scoring chances.

The centreman’s work ethic, desire to always get the puck back, and offensive flair directly led to one of his goals on Friday. He first missed his pass on a three-on-one, but didn’t give up on the play.

As his teammates were watching the play exit the zone, Poehling skated past them, hunted the puck down himself, and managed to poke it away from the defender before it was passed out of the zone. He circled back to the slot and, rotating his upper-body, launched a shot at the net that hit the goalie’s glove hard enough to get past it and into the net.

Here’s the goal, and a few other good forechecking/backchecking sequences that directly led to scoring chances or offensive presences.

Poehling scored his other goal on the power play. Interestingly, he wasn’t the one controlling the flow of the play on the half-wall in that game. He was instead used as a shooting threat on the other side of the crease. His job was to position himself near the blue paint in an open passing lane to have his teammate on the opposite post find him with a cross-crease pass.

When that play finally worked on St. Cloud’s first chance of the game, Poehling missed his shot as he didn’t get sufficient elevation on the puck to get it above Omaha’s goalie’s pad. The netminder launched himself across and managed to block the release just in time. The puck bounced back to Poehling, now on his knees, and he tried to slide it to the front of the net, but it missed the stick of his teammate.

On the second opportunity he got from the same spot, Poehling didn’t miss. The puck came to him a little slower, but he simply held his ground and used his stick blade to roof the puck instead of rushing his shot like the first time. The puck went above the goalie’s glove and gave St. Cloud a 2-0 lead.

Having the power play sometimes run from the other side of the ice could be a very good thing for Poehling. He wouldn’t be the main playmaker anymore, and it should give him more scoring opportunities from high-danger areas, which should help him work on his shot and improve his goal totals on the season.

Jack Gorniak, LW/RW, Wisconsin Badgers

Gorniak is still in the Badgers’ top six, on a line with two of the team’s best point-producers. The prospect is himself the 10th-most-productive player on his team, but his tools — his penchant for close-quarter play and his quickness — make him a complement of choice to other top forwards.

Wisconsin had an interesting weekend. They first lost 8-2 to Penn State, but bounced back in a major way on Saturday with a 7-2 victory over the same team. Gorniak had a goal and an assist in that game, bringing his total up to 12 points on the season.

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

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 BLB / ROU 66 43 37 80
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 65 16 27 43
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 33 10 12 22
Allan McShane 2018 LW/C OHL Oshawa 62 34 35 69
Nick Suzuki 2017 C/RW OHL OS / GUE 59 34 60 94
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Prince Albert 67 29 44 73
Jarret Tyszka 2017 LD WHL Seattle 41 8 22 30
Scott Walford 2017 LD WHL Victoria 62 9 38 47
Josh Brook 2017 RD WHL Moose Jaw 59 16 59 75

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 Big Ten Wisconsin 37 4 11 15
Brett Stapley 2018 C WCHA Denver 25 6 12 18
Ryan Poehling 2017 C NCHC St. Cloud State 32 7 23 30
Nikolas Koberstein 2014 RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 35 0 10 10
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 34 1 11 12

Cayden Primeau’s season to date

Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Cayden Primeau 2017 NCAA Northeastern 23-9-1 2.05 0.935 4