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‘I played a lot better when I felt comfortable’ - Ryan Poehling’s adjustment to college saw his offensive numbers rise

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Being the youngest player in the NCAA didn’t only lead to an adjustment on the ice

Shanna Martin

A lot was made in his draft year that Montreal Canadiens first-round pick Ryan Poehling was the youngest player in the NCAA during the season. And a lot of that was to put less worry into his offensive numbers.

But there was another side to it. Poehling was only 17 years old, moving away from home for the first time and adjusting to being in a place where the people are as much as five years older than you and you have to adjust to a whole other level of education.

“Being 17 and the first time moving away from home was the biggest thing,” Poehling said. “College, it wasn’t the hockey that was the hardest part it was life in general, growing up. I had my two brothers there which helped a lot but at the end of the day you have to grow up yourself.”

“It was the right decision to go to college but I didn’t expect the life and schooling to be as tough as it was. After finding what I liked to do and being with those guys it helped heading into my sophomore year and I think that’s why I exploded in the offensive end as well and I played a lot better when I felt comfortable in the area.”

Poehling more than doubled all of his offensive statistics in his second NCAA season. He went from seven goals and six assists in 35 games to 14 goals and 17 assists in 36 games.

“I’ve always been a two-way player. I take pride in the defensive zone which is what I enjoy doing but I can also play offence and I don’t think people saw that but after my freshman year, people didn’t really see that side of me and I think it was good in my sophomore year to show them the player that I can be.”

In development camp, he definitely looked like a more refined, complete package and probably wouldn’t look out of place at the professional level.

Poehling was asked if he paid attention to the need the Canadiens have at centre which is become a louder chorus in the last year.

“Not a lot,” he said, laughing. “But it’s hard not to when everyone’s tweeting at you ‘oh centre this, centre that’. I know it’s a big deal here in Montreal. I don’t know a lot about the centres in Montreal but hopefully I can come someday and help that situation.”

He also embraces the pressure that many have put on him, already pencilling him into the top six forwards in the NHL when he’s not even done his college hockey career.

“There’s obviously pressure but as an athlete, everyone is good enough to play but it’s how you handle pressure that’s how you make it. I enjoy it and that’s what makes me me. When there’s an occasion to rise to I always find a way to do that. It’s an exciting challenge.”

Poehling also had a goal and two assists in seven games for Team USA at the 2018 World Juniors. He should get a chance to improve on those numbers this year. Last year, he was leaned on for a more defensive role and it showed him the advantages of being able to adapt to your situation.

“I did receive a lot of minutes, we had a lot of guys go down which sucked but I think it helped me find out that every team is different,” he said about the tournament. “When I am at St. Cloud, they’re looking for you to score, they’re looking for you to do this, that, that. At the World Juniors, it was different. I still played a lot of minutes and they still wanted offence but they didn’t need it. So I think it was good to realize when you’re on a different team, this is a role I can play and get on the ice, this is what I’ll do. It was big for me to realize that I didn’t need to be the goal scorer, you could be this and that and that so it was comforting for myself.”