Montreal Canadiens’ Changes At Centre Position Is A Golden Opportunity For Ryan Poehling

On Friday, the Montreal Canadiens announced that they agreed to terms with forward Ryan Poehling on a two-year contract extension. Valued at $750, 000 per season, Poehling, a St. Cloud State alumni, will be a restricted free agent at the deal’s conclusion.

Selected 25th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Poehling has amassed 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists) across 64 contests with the AHL’s Laval Rocket. Playing with the Canadiens, Poehling racked up four goals and recorded one assist across 28 contests.

Development And Past Struggles

Like many, the road to the NHL has not always been an easy one for the 22-year-old forward. Making his debut on April 6th, 2019, the American netted a hat trick and recorded the shootout winner to lead Montreal to their final win of the regular season. As such, expectations of the youngster were set unreasonably high amongst the Canadiens fanbase. However, for the avid prospect followers, many knew it would still take time for the Lakeville native to fully develop. 

During the following preseason, he looked poised to attain a roster spot, but luck was not on his side, as went down with a concussion and needed time to recover. Alongside a full Canadiens NHL roster, the team thought it best to send the forward down to the Rocket. 

Poehling would later be called up to the NHL early on in November. In his 27 games with the Canadiens, the centreman would only collect a goal and an assist before being sent back down on February 8th, 2020. It was evident throughout the 2019-20 season that Poehling’s play was inconsistent at both levels; however, he was poised to rectify past issues.

Despite the fact that Poehling did not see ice time during the NHL’s shortened campaign, he was one of the Laval Rocket’s best forwards. In 28 games played, the forward amassed 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) before sustaining a wrist injury, which saw him sidelined for the season’s remainder.

The 2021-22 Season Is A Golden Opportunity

Fresh off a two-year extension and recovering from his wrist-injury, Poehling will have many opportunities ahead of him, with some stemming from Montreal’s acquisitions and losses throughout the offseason.

The departure of Philip Danault to the Los Angeles Kings leaves a significant hole to fill in Montreal’s centre position, with uncertainty as to how the team may look down the middle on opening night. Whilst the recent signings of Cedric Paquette and Matthieu Perreault could alleviate some concerns, those are short-term solutions that still offer little clarity.

Cedric Paquette is a reliable depth signing who can play on the fourth line, or be used as the extra forward. Averaging 48.6% in the faceoff circle these last four seasons, he could offer some consistency that may be lacking in younger centremen Nick Suzuki, Jake Evans and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Utilizing a player like Paquette in the lineup could also allow younger players have to have more offensive zone starts; however, he will offer little in the way of offence.

On the other hand, former Winnipeg Jets forward Matthieu Perreault could also be an option at centre. Following his signing with the Montreal Canadiens, Perreault made it clear that he could play in the middle if needed. However, it has been several seasons since he has last done so and that time lost could lead to a long readjustment period if he readjusts at all. Nonetheless, Perreault remains an effective forward at both ends of the ice who could serve as a mentor to the younger centres, while also getting some ice time on the wing.

Considering the two most recent acquisitions in Paquette and Perreault, it may seem like Ryan Poehling is in a similar position to that of the 2019 preseason, with an abundance of players on the NHL roster. Nick Suzuki, Jake Evans and Jesperi Kotkaniemi already being on the roster leaves the Canadiens with one last spot down the middle. However, a full 82-game season grants more leeway for the coaching staff to experiment with their lineup. Barring an underwhelming preseason, Ryan Poehling will have every opportunity to impress and carve out a roster spot. Moreover, he will be wanting to prove himself for his next contract and earn a pay raise when the current one expires at the end of the 2022-23 season.

As Matthieu Perreault has not recently skated at the centre position and Cedric Paquette offering little by way of offensive output, Ryan Poehling could offer the best of both worlds, so long as the coaching staff are willing to deal with growing pains as the season progresses. Furthermore, Poehling should be offered an opportunity to succeed if he makes the roster on opening night by playing him with wingers that cater towards his skillset.

Although he has dealt with consistency issues in the past, and may very well do so once again, Ryan Poehling appears physically poised to play in the National Hockey League. Already at six-foot-two and 197 pounds, if Poehling were to make use of his skill set on a consistent basis at the NHL level, he could become a regular player on the roster. While he will not become an offensive force, the ability to be an effective two-way player and offer stability down the middle as he matures is a present.

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