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2017 NHL Draft prospect profile: Ryan Poehling has the tools to become a solid NHL centre

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He won’t wow you with his skill, but he’s a good bet to turn into an everyday player.

CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Ryan Poehling accomplished a rare feat at the beginning of the season: he was one of very few NCAA players to begin his collegiate career at just 17 years of age.

To allow for that opportunity, he loaded up on high-school courses and spent the summer of 2016 in the classroom to get his diploma a year early. With his schooling complete, he headed to St. Cloud State University for his freshman season.

The advanced plan was set into motion by SCSU’s head coach, Bob Motzko, who proposed the idea to Poehling’s parents after the university program saw several of its players, a few of them centres, depart in the off-season. The family got together to discuss the possibility, and decided it was a beneficial course of action.

Birthplace: Lakeville, Minnesota
Shoots: Left
Position: Centre
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 183 lbs.

Family decisions are key in the Ryan Poehling story, as he grew up playing with his twin brothers Nick and Jack, who are two-and-a-half years older. The three played high-school hockey together, capping off a perfect 2014-15 season with a state championship.

The role he played with that team caught the eye of of the Lincoln Stars of the USHL, who drafted him first overall in the Futures Draft that same spring.

Initially the plan was to develop on that path, spending some time in the USHL — as his brothers were, with a different team — before eventually joining St. Cloud for his collegiate career. The aforementioned course change accelerated that plan, and the brothers Poehling joined up to begin their freshman seasons together.

Image credit: EliteProspects

Despite being significantly younger than his teammates, he posted a respectable total of 13 points in his first year, which was the best production by a freshman forward on the team, edging out his 20-year-old siblings.

He did so after jumping right into a centre role to start, which would be impressive for any player, let alone a high-school-aged one.

He has good size at 6’2” and a strong first stride that can get him up to speed quickly, and those two attributes combine to make him an effective player. He can win board battles with both his physicality and good awareness of where the puck will end up. Once he gains control of the puck, he’s able to use his long reach to protect it and buy time to find a passing option.

As you can see in the highlight video, he scored several of his goals by posting his large frame up in front of the goaltender and using good hand-eye coordination to tip the puck. It’s rare he’ll beat a goalie outright with his shot, or create a highlight-reel play.

That will be his largest criticism as he progresses in his collegiate career, as he’s not much of a threat to have an offensive breakout. He does a lot of things well, but offence hasn’t been one of his main skills.

As a result, Poehling projects as more of a bottom-six talent than a top-six option; a player who can play a strong possession game but probably won’t convert it into many points.

Scouting

Future Considerations (May 2017)

Big, accountable centre who has all the talent to be a two-way threat down the road. Strong on the puck and able to force defenders back with his strength and speed. Cerebral vision and sees play development when skating the puck or setting up shop. Puck skill isn’t Datsyukian but he spreads the puck around with crisp passes and can manage to keep the puck safe with his reach and positioning. Sky’s the limit if he works on footspeed, and polishes his offensive game.

Rankings

Future Considerations: 21
Central Scouting service: 13 (North American skaters)
McKeen’s: 26
Corey Pronman: 28

No services have the exceptional NCAA centreman among their top 15 overall prospects, but they do see his high NHL chances as enough of a factor to place him in the first round.

Thoughts

The question for amateur scouts and general managers is whether they want to draft a Lars Eller in the first round — a player with not much offensive upside but a high probability of an NHL career — or take a chance on a player with a few question marks who could blossom into a point-producer at the top level if all the pieces come together.

For the Montreal Canadiens, the lack of a top-line centre has been the main talking point from the media and general manager Marc Bergevin himself. The chances of finding such a player in final quarter of the first round are slim, especially in what is regarded as a weak draft year.

You can ‘t go wrong by drafting Ryan Poehling, as you’re likely going to see him in the NHL in a few years’ time. For the Canadiens, who have been adding bottom-six players via trade, free agency, and the draft with Jacob de la Rose and Michael McCarron joining the organization in recent years, they may need to forego a safe option for a riskier gamble with more offensive potential.

Stats from Elite Prospects and USCHO.