The Montreal Canadiens had a wild 2021 calender year. From a hot start and a COVID-19 outbreak to being the runner up in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The rollercoaster ride of emotions did not end when the season finished. It carried on into the offseason, with their controversial first-round pick in the NHL Entry Draft to the free-agent roster turnover we saw right through to training camp.
One of the biggest changes is the departure of 3/4 of the center group, as Philip Danault moved to Los Angeles in free agency, Jesperi Kotkaniemi joined the Hurricanes on a successful offer sheet, and Eric Staal, who was not brought back. Even though the Canadiens are bringing back Nick Suzuki and Jake Evans, while acquiring Christian Dvorak and signing Cedric Paquette, there is an vacancy left at the center position.
That opening should be an opportunity for 2017 first-round pick Ryan Poehling to seize.
Since signing his entry-level contract and making the jump to pro hockey, Poehling has had an up-and-down development. The centreman started off well, with a strong three-goal performance and the shootout winner against the Toronto Maple Leafs on the final day of the 2017-18 campaign. With the way he finished his final NCAA season, his World Juniors performance and the final game glimpse we saw of him, he entered the following season’s training camp with the expectation of cracking the lineup on a team that had just drafted third overall a few months prior.
His 2018 pro camp started off well, but got derailed, as he was sidelined with a concussion that set his debut back a number of months. He did not have a good year and could never find a consistent playing style, whether he played with Laval, or even when he was recalled to play 27 games with the Canadiens. He took a step back in what was only his first season.
His second season proved to be a bounce back one. He started the year with four points in 10 games, but then went on to score 21 points in the remaining 18 contests. Point production is not the sole representation of play and efficiency, but it is a good one for Ryan. The more comfortable he got, the better he played. Poehling is a strong skater who is very explosive when he’s confident, and it was very obvious that he was at his peak during this final 18-game stretch. He did finish the season injured, having been sidelined for the last games of the Rocket campaign.
Ryan Poehling’s expectations and projections have been high with all the success he’s had since being drafted. The player possesses a wide range of important qualities and could prove to be vital to this team for many years.
This year is no different, and with the departure of Philip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Poehling will likely be competing with another Habs prospect, Jake Evans, for the third center role behind Nike Suzuki and Christian Dvorak, the newly acquired centreman. Both players have something the other doesn’t, but the one that shows a more reliable game and offensive abilities will find himself at that spot.
Evans has a lot more pro level experience, playing a total of 178 games, including 60 at the NHL level and 118 games in the American Hockey League. Poehling has only laced them up for 92 games, playing 64 in the AHL and adding 28 more on the NHL stage. On the other hand, Poehling possesses a wider range of abilities offensively. He’s not only quicker, but a strong net driver and a better puck mover.
As mentioned above, there is a major opportunity for Ryan Poehling to crack the Canadiens lineup and be placed in an important role; the third center spot. Montreal lost a Selke-caliber centreman in Phil Danault and a former third overall pick in Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the same offseason. Newly acquired Christian Dvorak should slot in behind Nick Suzuki, who has been leading the Canadien centers in recent years. That leaves the third line position up for grabs and Ryan Poehling should seize this prime opportunity.
There is a lot to like about this chance. For one, Poehling will be playing behind two players who have either solidified themselves as top-six centremen, or have a ton of experience to where he won’t have to play against tough competition. Playing lower down the lineup is favourable for rookies, as they get to play against bottom-six lines, along with bottom pairing defensemen. Another plus about this opportunity is the quality of wingers that coach Dominique Ducharme will have at his disposale to surround himself with. The list includes Tyler Toffoli, Cole Caufield, Jonathan Drouin, Josh Anderson, Brendan Gallagher and Joel Armia, as well as Paul Byron and Mike Hoffman, who are currently nursing injuries, but will draw into the lineup when fully recovered.
Moreover, Poehling is joining a squad that just came off a trip to the Stanley Cup Final and saw them come up short against the reigning champion Tampa Bay Lightning. This team is going to be hungry and motivated and this is a positive time for a rookie like him to make an impact on the team. On top of this, the Canadiens boast multiple strong charactered individuals who can keep Poehling grounded when things get uncomfortable. This includes tons of leaders of all ages and experience levels sprinkled through the roster and rooted deep into this organizational depth chart. It’s a long list of leaders.
Having been selected back in 2017, it’s time for Ryan Poehling to make an impact in training camp. His playing style, two-way abilities and the hole at the centre ice position on the third line make him making the team a very real possibility. He has training camp and the start of the season to show that he’s worth earning a spot on the team. With what he’s shown recently, it’s not farfetched to believe that he can at least start the season behind Nick Suzuki and Christian Dvorak. If things continue to progress in his favour, then we’ll see him center the third line against the Toronto Maple Leafs on opening night.