The St. Cloud State sophomore is off to a great start after a productive summer. If the Minnesota native keeps developing his game, the Montreal Canadiens may have what they need.
When was the last time the Montreal Canadiens had a big, talented center at their disposal? Don’t spent too much time trying to figure it out. The Habs are still lacking in that department, but perhaps the answer isn’t too far away.
Ryan Poehling was Montreal’s first selection in the 2017 draft, going 25th overall to the venerable franchise. At 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, Poehling has the size and the skills to be a top-six forward in the NHL. And he didn’t give himself an easy development path along the way.
Poehling entered his freshman year at St. Cloud State as a 17-year-old, allowing him to play alongside older twin brothers Nick and Jack. Though Ryan did have size and pedigree, he was still playing against NCAA competition that was as much as six years older than himself – plus he was attending class, of course.
“It was an experience to learn from, just college in general,” he said. “It’s not normal for a 17-year-old kid to go into a college environment and that was my first time moving away from home; that was tough for me. Overall I learned off and on the ice.”
Though he didn’t want to rely on his brothers, Poehling was always open when the twins had advice for their younger sibling and his first season with the Huskies was a success, even if his numbers were just OK. Poehling put up 13 points in 35 games and also helped Team USA win gold at the world under-18s.
The sense from scouts during his draft year was that Poehling kept pace in the college game, and they saw a two-way center with a competitive streak and some decent offense to his game. Now a sophomore, Poehling is off to a great start with four points in three games. The Huskies are one of the few undefeated teams left in college hockey and a roster that seemed a little young last year is now much more experienced. Poehling also got a nice jump-start to the season when he was one of Team USA’s strongest players at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Michigan, centering the top line with Brady Tkachuk (2018 draft-eligible) and Joey Anderson (New Jersey Devils prospect) and putting up seven points in five games.
“I don’t correlate success with just offense, but it’s also good to see it be part of my game,” Poehling said. “A lot of people didn’t think I had that.”
Clearly those folks aren’t from Minnesota. Like so many current and future NHLers, Poehling played high school hockey in the state, helping his Lakeville North Panthers to a rare undefeated season and a state title in 2015. The top three scorers on that squad were the Poehling brothers and snatching that championship was obviously a big deal.
“It was a pride thing for myself,” Ryan said. “I remember being nine or 10 years old, watching Nick Leddy, Aaron Ness and Jake Gardiner at the state tournaments and it was always something I wanted to do. To win it my sophomore year was the greatest accomplishment of my life. It’s so special doing it with your best friends.”
Some of those friends don’t even play hockey anymore, but they’ll always have the memories of that season together. And if they ever need a reminder, they can turn on a Montreal Canadiens game in the future and see one of their own, commanding the play down the middle.