After coming away with 13 points (7G, 6A) in 35 games with St. Cloud State University during the 2016-17 season— and being the youngest player in NCAA hockey — it’s no surprise the Montreal Canadiens had their sights set on Ryan Poehling.
Drafted 25th overall in 2017’s first round, Poehling played with St. Cloud for two more seasons and in those years he more than doubled his freshman point total, posting 31 points in 36 games in both seasons. The Canadiens were probably already doing their happy dance after that showing.
Birthplace: Lakeville, Minnesota, USA
Date of birth: January 3, 1999
Drafted: 2017 (25th overall)
Weight: 185 lbs.
Team: Montreal Canadiens (NHL)/Laval Rocket (AHL)
During this year’s development camp, Poehling continued to impress, putting his skills on display for everyone to admire as he dominated the scrimmages.
Here's some highlights from the first half. Leskinen from Ryan Poehling, and Guay from McShane makes it 2-0 RED.— David St-Louis (@RinksideView) June 26, 2019
Ryan Poehling is dominating the scrim, as expected. pic.twitter.com/dpon8syW0q
When asked at the prospect camp what his biggest change was since participating in his first development camp back in 2017, he said, “I think there’s two things. Just more confidence in yourself. When you come here, it’s your third year, you kind of know everything and you just got to worry about yourself. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing this camp. Another thing is just leadership. I think leading by example is something I try to do and I think I do it well.”
He was playing those scrimmages as an official member of the organization. On March 31, he signed a three-year, entry-level contract and ended up making his NHL debut just days later in the Canadiens’ final game of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Habs ended the season on a high note with a 6-5 victory over the Leafs, with Poehling scoring a hat trick and topping the night off with the shootout-winner. This spectacular evening made him the third Canadiens player in franchise history to score at least three goals in his NHL debut, joining Joel Malone, who scored five in 1917, and Alex Smart who debuted in 1943.
The votes for Poehling were confined to a small range, landing largely in the four-to-seven range, with one odd man out (but just by a little).
Nathan: It’s always important to make a good first impression, and Poehling certainly did that with his four-goal performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s obviously unreasonable to expect him to score at that pace in this coming season (I’ll settle for a mere one-tenth of that), but that game was a showcase for why Montreal is so excited about the MVP of the 2019 World Junior Championship. He can both grind and run-and-gun, he can play with skilled players and plumbers, and he can fit his individual skills into a system. His absolute ceiling may not be the 50-goal potential of a Cole Caufield, but Poehling is going to be a multi-dimensional weapon for the Canadiens for years to come. Heck, he may already be one.
Jared: I’ve already established why I had the group of Caufield, Nick Suzuki, and Poehling in the six-seven-eight range. For me, I had Caufield’s upside at the top, followed by the very high chance of an NHL career for Poehling. Poehling simply looks like an NHL player. He’s big, he’s strong, and he’s confident. I don’t think he’s a goal-scorer necessarily, but he has deceptive skill.
There are a lot of great players in the organization and the top players are all quite close. I would be very surprised if Poehling doesn’t play at least his second NHL game in 2019-20.
Top 25 Under 25 History
Poehling continues to leap up the charts in our T25U25 year after year. Starting out just outside the top 10 in 2017 at number 14, he quickly cut that in half the following year to hit the top 10. He easily made it in the top five this year, leading the way for a closely-ranked second tier of players (Nick Suzuki, Victor Mete, and Caufield are all less than one position lower in the averaged total).
History of #4
Poehling has been on the fast track since joining St. Cloud in 2016. As a versatile player with an impressive two-way game, it’s not hard to see that he’s continued to work on his game through the years.
He’s strong (40 pounds heavier now than when he was first drafted) and not afraid to put his body on the line to block shots. He loves a little give-and-go with his teammates, and because he can read the play so well, the decisions he makes as he circles the defence on his way down the ice are usually the right ones.
His offensive game is built on his playmaking, with some rather impressive passing abilities shown in his time in the NCAA. He can easily find the stick of a teammate through traffic with a hard pass, which should have led to higher point totals in his collegiate careers had his linemates been able to convert them more often.
While he protects the puck well, his stickhandling skills need some work. Turning his body to shield off defenders won’t be nearly as effective against opponents with active sticks at the NHL level. To play as a puck-carrier and work from the board to the middle of the ice, he’ll need to be more shifty with possession.
He has a tendency to pass the puck too often instead of shooting. In his first two years, that was a nearly exclusive offensive approach, and meant NCAA defencemen — let alone the much better defenders in the NHL — were able to anticipate his plays. Perhaps it’s just a bit more confidence that is required for him to start taking more shots because he does have a pretty mean wrist shot. The good news is that he seems more willing to use it in the latter half of the 2018-19 season, and had no issues letting it go in his first NHL game.
There’s a good chance that his confidence has been boosted after his performance at the World Juniors and an amazing debut in April. He continues to push and bring his play to the next level, and could soon very well be the full package for the Habs.
Poehling already seems to have an elite-level understanding of the game and has continued to grow and improve by being a leader in the NCAA for the past two seasons. He finished third in scoring at the WJC with eight points (5G, 3A) in seven games, and even though he had to settle for silver with Team USA, he was named MVP, selected for the all-star team, and brought home the IIHF Directorate award as the top forward.
There’s a potential for him to become a top-six centre and while there’s no rush to have 20-year-old Poehling in the lineup for the 2019-20 season, it would seem that he’s more than ready. After his debut five months ago, fans are excited to see what the forward can bring to the team.