Canadiens’ Ryan Poehling back where he belongs after big-league call-up

Alex Belzile tapped in a go-ahead goal against the Panthers after Ryan Poehling's perfect toe drag on a short-handed rush.

BROSSARD, Que. — Here’s a prediction we’re fearlessly making ahead of Ryan Poehling’s 2019-20 debut with the Montreal Canadiens: The 20-year-old centre will be with this team from here to the end of the season.

Granted, Poehling wasn’t dominating the American Hockey League the way some might have expected him to when he was sent to the Laval Rocket at the beginning of October, and this is a big step up. It’s just that this is where Poehling would have been from the start had it not been for a pre-season concussion that kept him out of action for eight days and had the Canadiens not had a surplus of players they were concerned about losing to waivers on the eve of the regular season.

And then there’s this one thing that serves as the main reason we’re making this prediction: Poehling processes the game at NHL speed.

Considering he’s already shown that he’s physically ready to play at this level — and he is at six-foot-two and 205 pounds — there isn’t much else to be concerned with in his case.

Canadiens coach Claude Julien sees a player who is wise beyond his years, one who already showed what he can do in his only other NHL contest — a 6-5 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in which he scored a hat trick and the shootout winner to help the Canadiens close out the 2018-19 season.

“Some players get it quickly — the little details of the game — and he showed us that in that one game that he played at the end of last year,” Julien said after Monday’s practice. “Put the goals aside and the magical night that he had and just look at his game and the way he played it, defended and also did the little things right (and) you could tell he (was) pretty close to a being a guy that (was) ready for the NHL.

“So no matter what, even though he had maybe a little bit of a slow start in Laval, it doesn’t take away what he has and can do.”

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If Poehling wasn’t quite on the level when he arrived with coach Joel Bouchard’s team in Laval, it had everything to do with the fact that he didn’t expect to be there to begin with.

“I think my head just wasn’t completely in it,” the Lakeville, Minn., native admitted on Monday. “I was still a little upset about the decision that I got sent down, so I think it affected my game the first couple of weeks.

“But once I started to realize just being upset about it isn’t going to do anything, just focusing on what’s ahead of you is something I did and I think I played really well. Throughout the last six or seven games I played there I thought me in particular, and the team as well, stepped up, and I think we won four of our last five, and I think that team’s heading in the right direction for sure.”

Poehling, who started off going without a point through his first three games before getting at least one in five of the next six with Laval, was heading in the right direction from the minute he received the call from the Canadiens on Sunday to inform him he was being called up.

We often hear that some players are better-suited for the NHL game than the AHL one and we have little doubt the cerebral Poehling is one of those players.

The St. Cloud State alum believes that’s the case, too.

“It seems like the NHL’s more systematic than the AHL and the AHL’s a little different,” Poehling remarked. “I’m a systematic guy, so I think this league kind of suits me more so than the AHL.”

Julien agrees.

“We see him as a player who’s had some pretty good games at this level (last year and in this year’s pre-season),” the coach said. “Some players play better at this level than they do in the other level, so those are all things to take into consideration… Believe it or not, sometimes the game is easier at this level because players are in the right places, and passes are a little bit better, and players at this level are obviously — the majority of the players here are probably a little bit better than the majority of the players there.”

“You go up a notch and it probably makes things a little bit easier and guys are in position,” Julien added. “You don’t have to look around for somebody to pass to — they should be where they should be and that’s probably a bit of a difference there at this level.”

It shouldn’t be hard for Poehling to adjust to the role he’ll have in injured centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s place.

Against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, he’ll line up with Paul Byron and Artturi Lehkonen, who both play the game the way he does.

“They’re straight-line players,” Julien said of all three. “Sometimes that’s what you need from a line is straight-line guys. (Poehling’s) a big body, so we’ll see where that takes us.”

There’s hope it could take Byron and Lehkonen, who have two goals between them in 14 games, to a better place than they’ve been offensively.

There’s little concern all three players will form a dependable line, one capable of being trusted against any of the four that make up a formidable 10-1-2 Bruins team.

There’s even less concern Poehling, who was drafted 25th overall in 2017, will excel with the Canadiens. So we don’t think our prediction should be considered a particularly bold one.

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