After the United States romped to a 9-3 rout of the Czech Republic en route to a bronze medal at the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championship, Eyes on the Prize was fortunate enough to speak with the Habs’ most recent first-round pick, as well as a potential top-five pick in the 2018 NHL entry draft afterward.
Ryan Poehling-F, United States
EOTP: First, congratulations on the bronze. What does it feel like to go out on such a dominant win?
Poehling: Yeah, no it feels good. It feels a lot better than getting fourth place. It’s always important to get a medal, especially for your country. USA Hockey does so much for all of us, so it’s good to pay them back in that respect.
You played a huge role for Team USA. How did it feel to finally get that goal you’ve been working for?
Yeah, it was nice. I feel like I was working, and working all tournament, and just nothing really clicked, so it was good to finally see that come through.
Kieffer Bellows had a massive tournament, beating Jeremy Roenick’s record for goals by an American. Is it impressive what he accomplished here?
Yeah, that’s something that will go down in history: to beat someone so elite with that name, he should be proud of himself. I mean, that’s a pretty special moment for him.
With the momentum coming out of this game, is that going to help your game when you’re back at St. Cloud?
Yeah, that would be what I hope for. We’ve got two big games Saturday and Sunday against the [Minnesota] Gophers. I’m excited to go back and help them out.
You were leaned on heavily in all situations in this tournament. Does that come from your coach’s familiarity with your game, or just your role within the team?
Umm, I would think it’s a little bit of both. At the end of the day, the coach trusts me, so when you’re in those tight games and doesn’t know who to throw out there, you know he’s going to trust me. I think that’s the kind of player I am: I’m a two-way guy, so up or down by a goal he can trust me with the situation.
Can you describe your goal tonight?
It was actually funny. We ended up on the PK, so we had drawn that play up before we were out there. Scotty [Perunovich], the d-man, just suggested it and we ended up doing it. Somehow it worked out and we were all laughing about it. It was a good play all around, I was surprised I was so wide open in front.
Quinn Hughes-D, United States
EOTP: With this experience, what do you think you learned about yourself in this tournament?
Hughes: I don’t know, I’m proud of the way I played, and I’m proud of the team, so you always pick up new things. So staying focused right now ... you can go minutes without playing, so you gotta stay positive and stay focused, being a good teammate like that.
You played against a lot of the other top guys in your draft class. How do you think you stack up with them after this?
I think I stack up very well. I’m very confident in myself, so I don’t really think about that. It’s a hard tournament and stuff happens, so I think I stack up pretty well I guess.
You had a little bit of a different role in the game tonight, while also playing forward. Was that planned ahead of time, or just for today?
It was kind of day of. I just sit there and when it’s my turn to go, I go. I thought it was fun though. It’s something new so, they needed me up front and that’s what I did.
I didn’t know what to do in the defensive zone and I asked [Trent] Frederic what to do and he said ‘Stay on your point. That’s it.’ (Laughs)
This tournament is a huge profile booster for draft prospects like yourself. Do you think your showing here has helped boost your profile?
Yeah, I’m sure it didn’t hurt though. I think it’s a process. I’ve still got two or three months of hockey to play, so ... I think it’s a body of work. I don’t think you make or break it at one tournament, I’ve still got a lot of hockey to play.
What’s the thing you want to focus on in the second half of your season now?
I just want to dominate, do what I can to help my team win every night and if I can do that I’ll be pretty happy.
Any advice for your younger brother who will be in a similar spot in the near future?
I don’t need to really give any advice, he’s a pretty smart guy (laughs).
He’s a good player and I kind of let him do his own thing, but I’ll chip in once in awhile.