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When is the earliest Ryan Poehling could join the Canadiens?

There has been a lot of excitement surrounding Ryan Poehling’s performance at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship where he led Team USA to a silver medal, and was named the top forward at the event. Many people began hoping that Poehling would sign his entry-level contract (ELC) and join the Montreal Canadiens as early as this season. However, due to certain circumstances,  fans should probably lower their hopes and not expect Poehling any earlier than 2019-20.

Worst-case scenario

The Canadiens have until August 15, 2020 to sign Poehling; in other words, when he completes his four years of college. Should he choose not to sign his ELC by then, and allow his rights with the Canadiens to expire in order to explore opportunities with other NHL teams, it is his right. However, it’s unlikely this would be the case as per the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). All ELC contracts are bound by the same maximums, so there is no financial advantage for Poehling to spurn the Canadiens. Given the Canadiens’ current lack of NHL-calibre centre depth, it would be hard to imagine him thinking he could get a better crack at an NHL roster somewhere other than the organization that oversaw his development.

In the unlikely event that all things go sideways between the Canadiens and Poehling, Montreal would receive a compensatory draft pick, as per the safeties put in the CBA. (For completeness, applying section 8.3(b) of the CBA would give the Canadiens the 25th pick of the second round as compensation if they can’t sign Poehling, who was the 25th pick of the first round in 2017).

But let’s be a bit more optimistic/realistic; Ryan Poehling will sign his ELC with the Montreal Canadiens.

The question is: when?

Best-case scenario

By the terms of the CBA, Poehling cannot sign his ELC until his college season is over, at the earliest. As it stands, St. Cloud State plays their final regular-season game on March 9. So, assuming all things collapse for St. Cloud and they don’t make the NCAA playoff bracket, Poehling could join the Canadiens from Game 70 onward and burn a year off of his ELC along the way.

Most-likely scenario

With a certain measure of assurance, the top-ranked St. Cloud team will make the NCAA playoff bracket. This means that they will be playing in the NCAA Regional Finals from March 29-31. So, all of a sudden, the Habs only have three games left in the regular season if St. Cloud loses and Poehling wants to turn pro. If St. Cloud wins their region and makes the Frozen Four (happening April 11), then Poehling will not suit up at all with the Canadiens during the NHL regular season.

Now we get into the additional scenarios.

Should St. Cloud lose their Frozen Four semifinal game on April 11, he could join the Canadiens (if they make the playoffs) or join the Laval Rocket for the final two games of the AHL regular season, and potentially the playoffs. Under this scenario, he signs an AHL Amateur tryout (ATO) for this year to go along with an NHL ELC that would kick in the next.

Should St. Cloud win their Frozen Four semifinal, the NCAA Championship game is played on April 13, coinciding with the final Rocket game. So, Poehling’s only option to join the Canadiens or the Rocket under this circumstance is if the Canadiens or the Rocket make the playoffs.

Looking at the current standings, both teams are very much on the precipice of missing the post-season. A strong St. Cloud team with NCAA Championship aspirations, combined with two pro clubs with questionable playoff chances, might mean that the earliest the fans could see Ryan Poehling wearing a Canadiens jersey would be during development camp in July.

By then, I think the answer to whether he will forego his final year of college, sign his ELC, and turn pro for next season will be known.

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