On April 6, 2019, the Maple Leafs held a one-goal advantage over the host Montreal Canadiens with three minutes left in regulation.
Then, with two minutes and thirty-one seconds left in his NHL debut, 2017 first-round Canadiens draft pick Ryan Poehling scored by completing an odd-man rush with his third goal of the night.
That shot did more than just make Poehling the first Canadiens player since Alex Smart in 1943 to score a hat trick in his NHL debut. It also tied the game at 5-5, sending the contest to overtime.
Poehling ended up winning the whole thing in the shootout, 6-5.
“It was all joy on the bench. We’re all happy for him, smiling. Who wouldn’t when you see a kid come in like that. Honestly, you can’t believe it. He had a couple of other opportunities as well, finishing his checks, he played hard. He deserves it. He’s going to be a great player.” —former Montreal forward Andrew Shaw, April 6, 2019, via NHL.com
But Poehling never secured a full-time role with the Canadiens following this historic debut.
April 6 marked his only NHL appearance in the 2018-19 season. After scoring three goals in his first game, Poehling has only tallied 10 in the following 84 games since then.
23-year-old Poehling was sent to the Penguins on Saturday, alongside 12-year NHL veteran Jeff Petry, in exchange for Mike Matheson and a 2023 fourth round pick.
The Penguins lost about $2 million in cap space in the trade because Petry is on a hefty $6.25 million/AAV contract through 2024-25. But Poehling, who averaged just over 12 minutes per game in 57 contests for the Canadiens last year, will cost the Penguins just $750,000, the league minimum.
Since making his NHL debut, Poehling has split his time between the NHL (85 total games, 13 goals, nine assists and 10 PIM with the Canadiens) and the AHL (71 games, 19 games, 25 assists and 8 PIM with the Laval Rocket.)
For an in-depth look at Poehling’s game, let’s look at a breakdown from 2021 by Jack Han, former assistant coach of the Toronto Marlies. When he coached Poehling at the AHL level in 2020, Han said he “had a difficult time imagining the first-round pick becoming an impactful center for MTL.”
Read the full analysis of Poehling’s AHL play here in Han’s Substack “The Hockey Tactics Newsletter,” but here’s a few highlights of Han’s analysis:
- Poehling is an energetic forechecker. Han describes him as “determined to be first into the corner.”
- He is described as a “poor puck carrier” who has difficulty evading pressure on the rush.
- Han believes he has been more effective as a winger than a center.
Micah Blake McCurdy, of HockeyViz, says Poehling “has not shown anything useful at the NHL level.” Below is the HockeyViz zone analysis of Poehling’s play.
You can see Poehling’s relatively weak offensive impact for the Canadiens. So far, he has struggled to get scoring opportunities from the dangerous area directly in front of the net, and his defense has allowed some quality chances from the other team.
Here is Poehling’s JFresh player card:
Poehling averaged over a minute per game on the power play in 2021-22, according to Natural Stat Trick, but did not make much of an impact beside being reasonably good at drawing the original penalty. Overall, he has performed similarly to a replacement-level player (described by JFresh as a 13th forward, or fringe NHLer).
Here’s Ron Hextall on Poehling after the trade, via Pens Inside Scoop:
When Ryan was drafted, we really liked him. He’s a big body that is going to get better. He plays the middle and can also play wing. Things haven’t gone exactly the way I think he would’ve liked in Montreal, and we’re hoping a change can spur him on.
Poehling’s NHL stats have not been stunning, but he’s put up a few highlight-reel plays which show his impressive pedigree, like this no-look between-the-legs back pass to Joel Armia.
This is a move which reminds you of the offensive abilities which highlighted Poehling’s college career with St. Cloud State.
To sum it up, Poehling is a former first-round pick who did not bloom into a full-time NHL player during two seasons in Montreal. He is also a young player on a league-minimum salary, and he is 6’2”, 204, intriguing stats for a team which has been one of the NHL’s lightest for the past three seasons.
The Penguins have a history of rehabilitating struggling players with innate talent (see: Matheson, Michael.) Will Poehling be next, or is he destined for Wilkes/Barre-Scranton?
Let us know what you think— what role would you like to see Poehling play with the Penguins franchise in 2022-23?