Ryan Poehling has a great story. Let me tell it to you.
Ryan’s from Lakeville, Minnesota, and you know what Minnesota is like. They play hockey there like it’s required. They’re like Russians or Swedes or those other people that play that game too much — where are they from again? Hockey is what you do in Lakeville, Minnesota when the lakes freeze.
Ryan has two older brothers, twins Nick and Jack, and they — wait for it — play hockey. They went to a place called St. Cloud State University to play, and that sounds beautiful until you see the logo the team has.
It likely is beautiful playing hockey in Minnesota. Nick and Jack aren’t bad players. They were freshmen this past year and are 20 now. They went from a career together in Lakeville in high school to a year in the USHL, the top junior league in America, before college. They got a lot of points in high school, about half as much in the USHL and about half as much again in college. They were never drafted. They remind me of the Spink twins, one of whom had a tryout on the Marlies and then went back to the ECHL.
But this is Ryan’s story. Ryan, who is just 18 with a January birthday, was also a freshman at St. Cloud State last year. Ryan, you see, spent last summer accelerating through the final few courses he needed in high school so he could go to college early. He’s better than his brothers.
In his freshman year, where by all accounts, he had a terrible start, he beat both of them in points, just. He did that with 9 games of USHL experience, not a full season. He skipped a step. And it worked.
Ryan is a centre who shoots left, and he’s ranked 13th by NHL Central Scouting for N.A. skaters. He’s ranked on consolidated lists anywhere from 14th – 20th. He knew when he was in high school at 17 that he’d be ranked high enough in the draft this year to make the early admission to college worth it. An NCAA team wanted him, after all. He had to have something to offer.
There’s more players on his team than his brothers, but since NCAA stats are spread over in-conference games, out of conference games, other games. I’m going to let Elite Prospects add up the points for the St. Cloud Huskies this year.
If you sort that table by age, you’ll see Ryan is the youngest, with three players who are 19. Two of them scored more than he did. One of them would have been draft-eligible last year and wasn’t taken, and the other is eligible this year and ranked 156th. He’s 5’8”, though.
Nick and Jack Poehling are 5’10” and 5’11”. Ryan is bigger than his brothers. He’s listed at 6’3” and 185 lbs.
Ryan was also impressive in the Ivan Hlinka tournament, scoring six points in four games. But, if you look at everyone who was in that tournament, the top guy was Alexander Chmelevski with nine points, and he’s ranked 43 by NHL Central Scouting. There’s also names around Ryan’s point rate that are familiar. Klim Kostin and Martin Necas.
But what separates Ryan from Chmelevski? Or the other players on his own team that did better at less than a year older? Why Ryan and not Jack and Nick? Why Ryan and not some other teenage boy in Minnesota or Russia or Sweden?
You can’t look at Ryan Poehling’s college stats and get that answer. You can’t look at his history — he barely has any, and it’s all in USHS hockey, and there’s no way you can make sense of those numbers. The top player in USHS hockey in Ryan’s last year, by points per game, is a kid from Florida named Lucas Sowder, and he has a career 4.33. He hit 7.18 that year.
You can only hear his story.
NHL.com told his story back in November. They also talked to his coach:
“You can just see there’s going to be a day the lid comes off,” St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said. “He’s searching to find his game and find his spot in there. Right now it just bubbles up a lot. But when the lid blows off, look out. He’s going to be real high-impact player at this level and beyond.”
They talked to NHL Central Scouting:
“I think he has great range,” David Gregory of Central Scouting said. “He’s got a nice long strong stride. Uses good puck protection, long reach. He can be effective in traffic, out of traffic. I like his vision and where he creates. Really saw him get better from the camp to pick the Hlinka team right through the Hlinka tournament; you can see growth. When he plays with better people he gets better. Really nice upside with this player.”
Jeff Marek wrote this in March when he ranked Ryan 24th:
Playing as a true freshman is challenging, but this hard-working, two-way centre is working through it. Got off to a slow start, but has improved steadily all season. Competes hard and has offensive skill.
Mike Morreale said this in January when he ranked him 12th:
The 6-2, 183-pound forward brings speed and smarts and seems to make things happen at the right time. He generates offense in clutch situations, and is close to being the complete package despite being the youngest player in the NCAA; he turned 18 on Jan. 3.
Okay. Does all of this mean much to you? It amounts to: he’s tall; he was good in the Hlinka; he has a nice upside; he works hard; he competes hard; he has offensive skill; he’s clutch; he’s playing against older players.
A lot of that is either bunk like “clutch” or it’s things that you would expect as minimum standard for a first rounder. They all better have offensive skill and work hard. In there are some clues to his nature as a player though, but those kind of scouting reports are just stories. Micro-narratives that sit in most articles after the main tale of Ryan’s life or beside a ranking number.
Hockey Pospectus has this on him from November, before “the lid came off”:
A leader on the ice, Poehling has the makeup to become a reliable two-way center at NHL-level. He is big, controls the puck well and is not easy to separate from the puck because of his strong skating balance, puck protection skills and overall compete level. Has leadership skills and communicates actively. Uses his great vision and awareness to see open ice and set up team mates. Can take off in a hurry with a few strong stides.
This was breath of fresh air after all the story telling. It seemed like real things about Ryan as a hockey player.
Future Considerations has some more fresh, almost clean air:
A do-it-all power-center…a thinking mans hockey player… good straight-line speed but could work on his first couple steps… he makes up for foot speed with great hockey sense, and his strong worth ethic…controls the puck well, protects it nicely…has an uncanny knack of being in the right spot at the right time…has a quick, hard shot…possess a strong one-timer as he reads the play incredibly well, and positions himself effectively…makes good passes and is able to create offense…makes pro-type plays…high compete-level, 200 ft. player…hard on the forecheck, takes great angles to pucks and battles hard down-low and along the boards…isn’t afraid to mix it up, and get to the dirty areas of the ice…solid in the face-off circle…a good head on his shoulders with the drive and the right attitude to succeed…will produce offensively and be a player that is used in many roles by his coach …reliable, mature, high compete-level, 200 ft. player. (November 2016)
I do have to ask, though. Have you ever read a scouting report that said a player was petrified of the “dirty areas” and kept to the safe zones?
Let’s just look at him.
Nice tip on a power play. And you learned how to say his name too.
Have his whole set of highlights. You’ll see some more tips, more going to the right place around the net, more smarts:
You know what you don’t see? You don’t see him play without the puck. You don’t see him in the defensive zone. You don’t see the things he does wrong or know how often he does them.
All you or I can do, short of moving to Minnesota or becoming an avid watcher of NCAA hockey, is to read the distillation of scouting reports, scan the rankings and guess at that. They never tell you. At best, they’ll hint obliquely at this sort of thing.
See, now that’s a bit interesting. Because all 18 year olds need to improve. Even Auston Matthews wasn’t perfect before his most recent birthday. But is that a hint that the claims of two-way upside are projections not really supported by his current play? It’s hard to tell.
The default level of scouting reports is such effusive enthusiasm, that it’s hard to reset it into normal English. It’s the opposite of Hockey Twitter which is permeated with such sneering disdain of perfectly good NHL players, that it will skew your perceptions the other way. But he sure sounds good in a lot of these more detailed reports, and he played at the highest level he could get at his age against the oldest players you can meet on the ice as a teenager in North America.
An NHL team will draft this hockey-mad boy in a few weeks, that we know.
Everything else you read anywhere about Ryan Poehling is a story. It’s a good one, I sure see why people keep re-telling it.