Perception is a strong influencer. The last time we did this ranking, Ryan Poehling was coming off of his first career NHL game; a game in which he just happened to score three goals and add a fourth to win a shootout against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Like most people would, Poehling struggled to meet the heightened expectations entering his first professional season. That, along with the emergence of several younger prospects in the Montreal Canadiens system has seen the shine come off the 2017 first-round pick.
The numbers were not kind to Poehling in 2019-20. He failed to match his three points from his first NHL game in 27 contests last season, and was unable to make a lasting impression at the AHL level.
The context of those numbers is much more important. The season started with a confidence-sapping injury at the worst possible moment. A concussion sustained in the pre-season led to lost time, which in turn had him start his season with the Laval Rocket. On top of the disappointment he faced by being sent down, the injury may have affected his play on the ice as he returned.
There isn’t anyone who will count on Poehling as a top scorer in the professional ranks, but certainly there is more to come from that side of his game going forward.
The voting for Poehling had a range from 6 and 14. Half of the voters had him in the top 10, and his overall average was a perfect 10. Poehling, Jake Evans, and the player ranked eighth were separated by less than one point in the final averages.
I had one of the lower rankings on Poehling, and that was simply because I see him as a player currently on the NHL-AHL bubble. His upside is also limited to a middle-six or third-line role. The struggles that he had last season didn’t have an effect on my ranking as much as the outlook of players around him and those players being a year closer to the NHL.
The biggest impact on my ranking of Poehling was the fact he did not establish himself at the NHL level, and not a change in how I view him as an NHL player.
Top 25 Under 25 History
Poehling was on a steady rise after being a first-round pick in 2017. and his NHL debut saw him rise all the way into the top four. His drop this year is partly because of the emergence of people around him as well as his disappointing season. He does remain in the top 10, however, for the third straight season.
History of #9
Since Poehling made his debut at St. Cloud State playing in the NCAA, he’s always played against players older than him. It is something that has allowed him to grow as a player and shine against his peers, especially in his final World Junior Championship.
He plays a strong two-way game, and his strength has always been that he does the little things right. His skill will never see him lead a team offensively at the professional level, but he does have the ability to score.
At his best, he can be an option to play on the penalty kill, and potentially be on the second power-play unit. He is also flexible and can play on the wing or at centre, which increases his ability to stake a claim to a roster spot.
His deceptive skill with the puck can allow him to surprise offensively as well.
Alex Belzile gets the goal but OH MY GOD THE HANDS ON RYAN POEHLING pic.twitter.com/0xWUpXOiqB— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) September 19, 2019
Poehling’s offensive production will never be his calling card, and because of that he will need to be consistent at the other aspects of his game. That, of course, is something that he struggled with in his first professional season. Between battling multiple injuries, and going between the NHL and AHL throughout the campaign, consistency was a major issue.
Poehling’s mindset was good going into the season, and it would be good for him to remember what he said at the team’s rookie camp.
“There are so many highs and lows throughout a season so you can’t get too down on yourself when you’re down and you can’t get too high when you’re high. You just have to be level-headed through the whole process.”
The words came at one of the first team events after his NHL debut, when he was brimming with confidence. With the lows that came in 2019-20, it may be good for him to reset.
Despite all the challenges he faced last season, his path to the NHL is quite simple. The Canadiens’ bottom six is the entry point for him, and where he spent over 20 games of last season. The issue becomes the amount of players he will be competing with. With the team adding depth to the middle six, the competition for the final lineup spots will be fierce.
That isn’t necessarily bad news for Poehling. The best thing for him may very well be to go to Laval and have the opportunity to be a leader for the AHL team. He would have an opportunity to play big minutes at even strength and contribute on the power play and penalty kill.
The things that Poehling needs more than anything else is consistency and confidence. Jesperi Kotkaniemi showed what confidence can do and made the best of his time in Laval. The key thing that Kotkaniemi had was that the team had said that he was in Laval for the foreseeable future. He wasn’t looking to see if the next injury at the NHL level was his ticket back to the main team.
Poehling also has the ability to stake a claim to a spot in Montreal. He skated with the team in the post-season, and he saw teammates like Evans and Alex Belzile play post-season games. He’ll know what is expected of him.
Despite the up-and-down start to his professional career, Poehling is only 21 years old. It would be rash to judge him on the struggles he faced in his first professional season much like it would be to rocket up expectations based on his NHL debut.
He has been down this road before. There were skeptics after his freshman season in the NCAA prior to being drafted by the Canadiens, and he responded well with an added year of experience. But one thing is for certain: there’s not much room for a sophomore slump for Poehling.