2017 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #1 Ryan Poehling

Ryan Poehling caps off this year’s Top 30 Prospects. | Photo: St. Cloud State University Athletics

A highlight reel often inflates the perception of a player’s ability. It makes sense, as a selection of highlights are the best players the player made that season, but lacking in nuance.

The opposite has happened to 2017’s 25th overall pick Ryan Poehling. Nowhere will you find a smattering of gorgeous plays by Poehling. Instead, you’ll find redirections and the odd nice pass.

The reasoning for this is two-fold.

First, Poehling was essentially a historically young player in the NCAA, a league dominated by 19-23 year olds. Only nine players have played NCAA at the age Poehling did since 2005. He was fifth highest scorer of the group and the first forward since 2006-2007. Considering this, the only fair expectation is hope he proves he can play at the level, and he did.

Second, Poehling just isn’t a highlight type player. No matter the level you examine–Minnesota High School circuit, NCAA, or international play–his highlight reel isn’t the prettiest. He’s not an overly gifted puckhandler, and rarely tries dangles or dekes.

However, that doesn’t mean that Poehling isn’t effective. Of all the prospects in the organization, he’s arguably the most effective across all three zones on both sides of the puck.

Poehling achieves his effectiveness through intelligence, pace, awareness, and a considerable amount of skill. To demonstrate this, this article will breakdown his playmaking, ability to attack space, and defensive game.

#1) RYAN POEHLING
Acquired: 2017, 1st round, 25th overall
Position: C | Shoots: L
Birthdate: 1999-01-03 | Nationality: USA
Team: St. Cloud State University Huskies
Height: 6’2 (188cm) | Weight: 183 (84kg)

GPGAPP1SOGSH%G/GP1A/GPP/GPP1/GP5v5 P1/GPSOG/GPTM.INV%GF.Rel%
35761383718.92%0.20.030.370.230.171.0617.60%0.00%

Series Navigation:
Top 30 Prospects: Ranking Methodology – Integrating Statistics into Analysis
Top 30 Prospects: #30 – #26 – Success Rates of Swedish Jr. and USHS Defenders
Top 30 Prospects: #25 – #21 – Success Rates of CHL Overage Forwards
Top 30 Prospects: #20 – #16 – Balancing Players with Opposing Skill Sets and Development
Top 30 Prospects: #15 – #11 – Weighing perceived NHL-readiness with NHL Upside
Top 30 Prospects: #10 Will Bitten – Why His Season Was Better Than You Think
Top 30 Prospects: #9 Victor Mete – How Undersized Defenders Can Excel Defensively
Top 30 Prospects: #8 Josh Brook – Improving Shooting Location Through Movement
Top 30 Prospects: #7 Michael McCarron – Do Big Players Really Take Longer to Develop?
Top 30 Prospects: #6 Charlie Lindgren – The Reverse-VH and When Skill Takes Over
Top 30 Prospects: #5 Charles Hudon – A Case Study on the Impact of Aging for NHL Chances
Top 30 Prospects: #4 Joni Ikonen – Multidimensionality in Attack
Top 30 Prospects: #3 Nikita Scherbak – Comparing Scherbak In and Out of Form
Top 30 Prospects: #2 Noah Juulsen – How to Excel at Defending the Blue Line
Top 30 Prospects: #1 Ryan Poehling – Full Breakdown, Importance of Little Details, and More

Deft Playmaking with Simple Space Creation

One thing the highlight reels won’t tell you is Poehling’s playmaking ability, and the simple, effective way he creates space and lanes.

Poehling’s ability to create plays, particularly with passes, is his best offensive tool.

Armed with variety, awareness, and a willingness to pass, Poehling makes high skill passes look routine. He’s capable at dishing both off the forehand or backhand, and constantly seeks to improve his target’s likelihood of scoring.

Poehling’s method of space creation is not based on slick stickhandling or slipperiness like a Scherbak or an Ikonen. Instead, he’s a methodical lane creator.

There are two main ways he creates space, both of which involve drawing as much attention to himself as possible, then locating an open teammate: Power moves into the fray of HD areas, only to find an even better positioned teammate, and controlling his speed to bait defenders into doubling up. In many of these cases, these plays seem like the intent as soon as he touches the puck.

Complementing these two ways (and the rest of his game, really) is a bevy of little details, such as locking his eyes on a player he has no intention of passing to, a quick freeze to allow his target to creep closer in the dangerous areas, a slick tie up, or intentionally working against the grain.

To demonstrate the two main ways he creates lanes, as well as his playmaking ability, here’s a clip:

It’s not just about the pass itself, but often what the passer does after. Take the second sequence in the above clip, for example. Notice the little play Poehling makes to ensure the high defender can’t chase the puck. Poehling skates toward him after passing, and leans into him, removing the defender’s chance of closing down the space Poehling created.

Ultimately, it’s the culmination of these little details that makes Poehling such an effective playmaker.

Reading Teammates & Space

Five of Poehling’s seven goals in the NCAA this past season were scored on redirections or deflections. Although it doesn’t make for the prettiest highlight reel, it does demonstrate his ability to read his teammates, pace (in decision-making), and skill.

All five of the goals had the same basic elements: Poehling shakes off a defender, gains body positioning, and/or jumps into a pocket of space, then, while moving, redirects the puck (often into a difficult area for the goaltender).

Here’s a demonstration of how quickly these plays actually happen:

Evident in all three sequences is that Poehling doesn’t behave like a typical net front presence. He’s the opposite of stationary, using constant movement to shake defenders and to create space for himself. The blade of his stick is always open and facing the puck.

He simultaneously locates pockets of space and moves into them just as he recognizes what his teammates are going to do. Even if the defender(s) isn’t puck watching, it’s still difficult to stop because Poehling is really skilled with his stick, and positions himself in a manner to obscure the defender’s view or angle. And he achieves all of these quickly.

This isn’t just a skill limited to redirections. His ability to read his teammates and locate pockets of space is evident in his playmaking, his defensive play, and transition. Speaking of which…

Support, Battles, and Transition

To jump into the NCAA and immediately be trusted to play centre, despite being one of the youngest players to play in the league since 2005, is a testament to Poehling’s smarts and diligence. (Or perhaps Bob Motzko’s need for a centre, but still.)

Poehling is an impressive support player, and has a knack for turning successful defensive zone support plays into offensive zone time. Support refers to an ability to support teammates, particularly defencemen when you’re a centre. It means having an ability to proactively position oneself to cover certain key areas (like the net), jumping into support the defence of a cycle, or covering for a teammate. It also refers to positioning oneself to retrieve pucks from battles or making oneself an option for breakouts or entries.

Watch as Poehling demonstrates not only his support ability and proactive positioning, but how he turns those plays into offence.

As per the usual, Poehling uses plenty of little details to make these plays successful. His positioning enables him to attack the puck (or puck carrier) with speed while involving his body. This increases his chances of freeing up the puck, and also gives him an extra jump once he does.

Bringing it all Together

Poehling’s playmaking and space creation are not flashy, but highly effective. He seeks to improve his teammates shooting locations with power moves and methodical passes with regularity. He’s not top-notch puckhandler, but he’s constantly around the puck and making smart plays. He’s slick at attacking space, makes deft one-touch plays, and never stops moving. To cap it off, he’s a dedicated defensive player thanks to a strong support game.

All the little details in Poehling’s game add up to make an effective player. As demonstrated, a quick look to a teammate that’s not the passing target, a change of speed, and a slick tie up can quickly add up and result in a goal.

In all three sections, there’s a noticeable trend–Not only does Poehling makes all of these plays in traffic, he makes them with pace. These are skillful plays, coupled with smarts and quickness that bring make their effectiveness projectable to the NHL.

The Report

Poehling accelerated to graduate high school a year early and join St. Cloud State University, and in process skipped the regular step of playing in the USHL. An ultra-rare 17-year-old in the NCAA was understandably overmatched at times, but held to his own, and was fantastic against his own age group on the international circuit. 

Although the production never took off this season, Poehling GF% improved considerably in the second half. This coincides with him switching form playing with his two brothers to Mikey Eyssimont and Patrick Newell. The change proved beneficial for all parties, but especially Eyssimont and Ryan Poehling, as both saw huge increases in GF% while playing together. All-in-all, his GF Rel% was exactly 0%, indicating that he wasn’t really driving the play, but wasn’t detrimental either–perfectly acceptable for a 17-year-old playing against 19-23 year olds.

Playmaking is Poehling’s best asset offensively, as he routinely connects with high-skill passes in flight. He’s capable in both forehand and backhand playmaking, has a slick saucer, and creates space and lanes with efficiency. Not limited to just offensive zone passing, as he’s equally deft in utilizing his teammates in zone exits and entries, often with cunning tape-to-space passes. To cap it off, he displays awareness in the little areas like stick manipulation, eye placement, and speed control.

Goalscoring is not a strength of Poehling’s, but he has the skill to blossom into a decent finisher. Blessed with dexterity and hand-eye coordination, he can finish with slick redirections but more impressive is the movement he makes to get into these scoring positions.

Poehling averaged just a hair over one SOG/GP in the NCAA, which was among the worst rates among regular forwards in the league. He only hit the net on 45% of his total shot attempts, 15% behind the average rate of pucks on net by SCSU forwards. Although he remains a pass-first player against his own age group, his passing/shooting balance isn’t tilted towards passing so heavily that it is often detrimental like it was in the NCAA. Simply put, his shot is powerful, and the release speed is above-average, but he severely lacks in volume and accuracy.

An intelligent and dedicated defensive player, Poehling is rarely out of position. He’s not just quick while hunting down the puck, he doesn’t hesitate. On the forecheck and backcheck, he disrupts a substantial number of plays, and has proactive assignment recognition keeping him involved in the play. This decision-making with pace enables him to be a deadly penalty killer, and he constantly looks for offence.

There are two tools-based concerns I have about Poehling: Strength and acceleration. His game is heavily based on his ability to win battles through strength, body positioning, and second efforts. Against NCAA competition, he was noticeably outmuscled quite often; however, winning battles is a strength against his own age group. This leads to me to believe it’s not particularly concerning, at least for now.

Acceleration is closely linked to a lack of strength in Poehling’s case, I think. Overall, he’s an above-average skater, but his acceleration holds him back a bit. His first four or five steps are choppy and wasteful of the effort. Improving his strength will help him get more “pop” into his step, and likely help take the transfer the energy he’s expending into actual acceleration.

Poehling is a fascinating prospect. He impacts all facets of the game with his skillful, pace-filled game that seems better in traffic than in open space.He prefers to keep his puck touches short, but rarely will you find a touch lacking in purpose.

Next season, it’s not unfair to think Poehling could see a big offensive improvement to 0.75 P/GP rate. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if he scores at an even higher clip next season as he becomes increasingly comfortable with NCAA competition.

Ranking Explanation: A reminder: the top three (Scherbak, Juulsen, and Poehling) were separated by less than one spot in the averaged rankings. Like I said, I expected Scherbak to be number one, but I think there’s a legitimate argument for Poehling first. But I also don’t think these rankings have much value. But anyway, here it goes:

My reasoning for Poehling at first in the prospect pool is based on a variety of considerations: Style, pace, creation rather than exploitation, and age.

Poehling does not necessarily have the best physical tools in the prospect pool, but nearly all of them are near the best. There are two tools specifically that need a fair bit of refinement: Acceleration and accuracy of shot. Tools like top-end speed, lateral agility, playmaking (vision + technical passing ability + willingness to pass), defence, and puck possession tools are either the best in the prospect pool or among the best.

There’s nothing statistical that stands out about Poehling’s NCAA season, but he wasn’t just the youngest player in the NCAA, he was basically a historically young player. Just nine players since 2005 have played their draft season in the NCAA as a non-late-birthdate. Among these are Jonathan Toews, Zach Werenski, and Noah Hanifin.

Age plays a significant role in Poehling’s low-scoring season. He was 17 playing against mostly 19-23 year olds. Further complicating matters is Poehling’s strength and acceleration, two key elements for reaching a high level of performance in NCAA.

In addition, Poehling does have a lengthy scoring record. He was fantastic at the Ivan Hlinka to beginning his draft season, and closed it out with a strong U18s performance. His D-1 production on the Minnesota High School circuit is virtually identical to that of Anders Lee, Nick Bjugstad, and Brock Nelson at the same age, plus he has an NCAA season under belt before they even finished high school and were drafted. This isn’t just a good development curve, it’s an accelerated one. To top it off, his nine-game stint in the USHL was strong, and then he skipped that level altogether.

What separates Poehling from the rest of players in this group is style, specifically the pace at which he makes plays and his ability to create space and lanes.

Poehling makes plays across the ice (east-west, north-south, all three zones, all four corners), more so than other prospect in the organization. He makes rapid-fire, deft passes in all three zones. He goes above and beyond in his supporting efforts for his teammates, and can quickly turn those into scoring chances. All of the decisions he makes occur quickly, or even before he receives the puck. He’s truly a cerebral player.

As discussed in the article, Poehling creates space and lanes for his teammates. He’s rarely flashy about it, and sometimes these plays are really subtle. He’s likely not a play driver in the NHL, but that same goes for every prospect in the organization.

While it’s important to consider what the players are now, I focus heavily on what I think they can become. As with a few cases on the list (Walford over Bourque, Fleury over Lernout, Ikonen over Hudon), I felt the tools Poehling has and the context in which his production exists (age) outweigh his lack of high-end NCAA production at this point in time. Poehling’s pace (in his decision-making), decisions, ability to read teammates, ability to create space, and awareness across all three zones either scored the highest or in the top-three among the prospect pool. These are highly projectable tools that I weigh the heaviest, and that lands him atop a somewhat deep prospect pool littered with serious question marks and a zero blue chip prospects.

And that wraps it up!

Thanks for following along, I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Notes:

  1. All the information is “in my opinion.
  2. The ranking likely has limited-to-no value. Think of the ranking as a way to catalogue players, notes, and data in a non-alphabetical way. The information within the profiles is far, far more valuable.
  3. I mentioned I’m not a scout right? If not, I’m not a scout.
  4. I appreciate all questions, comments, and criticism. You can reach me on Twitter (@MitchLBrown) or email (mitchbrown31@gmail.com). You can also tell me I suck. I don’t care.
  5. AHL/CHL/USHL Stats: Prospect-Stats.com | NCAA Stats: CollegeHockeyInc.com | SuperElit Stats: Stats.SweHockey.se | NHL Stats: Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com

The list:

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One Response to 2017 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #1 Ryan Poehling

  1. I am absolutely impressed with this kid..I think Montreal is a perfect fit because he is all business, plays a natural two way game and already has a very similar jersey..
    He seems lacking in weakness and the most unnoticed aspect of his game that I see is his hand…I suspect he is going to be a star that plays in the Hab style and character of old..
    I also think he is ready now..I realize his stats were not great at St. Cloud but that is a big time program..They play quality competition without question…I’m going to follow him closely this year..

    Robert cowgill September 1, 2017 at 3:56 pm Reply

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