After scoring a hat trick and the shootout winner in his NHL debut against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Poehling admits he doesn’t look back at that game too often but is often reminded by the fanbase just how much of an impression he left.
“I probably get tagged once or twice a week on Instagram of just highlights of the game from fans,” Poehling explained at the 2019 NHLPA Rookie Showcase. “It still feels like it all hasn’t settled in but when it does and I think about, you just can’t write up a better story.
“Scoring three goals and having the shootout winner with Bob Cole calling his last game, it’s just something that, I mean, it’s just way beyond my head and I realize just how blessed I am.”
After three years at St. Cloud State in the NCAA, Poehling signed on with the Canadiens after the Huskies’ season ended, just in time to squeeze into a regular season game. What made that quick transition to the pros exciting for the Lakeville, Minn., native was being in a Habs locker room that had a good mix of youth and strong veteran leadership. In his experience, Poehling says it can be hard to find a group that’s as tightly-knit as the Habs were, so he can’t wait to be around them again.
But out of all the players he met during his short time with the team, Shea Weber certainly left the biggest impression. What Poehling appreciated the most from the Canadiens’ captain was how he made sure Poehling felt comfortable making the jump from NCAA hockey to the NHL.
“He’s probably one of the best captains out there and I can just tell, even though I was only with him for a week, how great a guy he was and how much people respect him,” said Poehling. “To have him there and know he has your back is something that definitely helped me out a lot making a transition like that.”
The 20-year-old has been spending most of his time this off-season training in Montreal and even though he’s only played one NHL game, it’s tough to not be recognized by fans in the hockey-mad city. For some young players all this hype, pressure and attention can get overwhelming, but being exposed to it has motivated Poehling.
“The Montreal fans are crazy in a good way so to have that respect; it makes hockey more fun to play in a city like that.”
The big hurdle Poehling will have to overcome if he wants to play in the NHL on a full-time basis is the Canadiens’ strong depth at centre.
Right now, they have Max Domi — who had a career year moving from the wing to centre — Jesperi Kotkaniemi — who showed that he was up to the task as a rookie — as well as Phillip Danault and Nick Cousins. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for Poehling who is probably better off playing top line minutes in Laval rather than being used sparing lower in the NHL lineup.
The organization wants Poehling to remain at centre and he wants to continue playing there so it’s unlikely the coaching staff would consider moving him to the wing.
“They got a lot of good centres there, but for me, really, it’s just about trusting myself, see what happens and go from there, that’s all I can control and that’s all I can worry about,” he said.
While already experiencing the NHL — even for just one game — gave the 25th overall pick from 2017 a taste of what to expect, he admits that he doesn’t really let nerves overcome him and he showed that in his debut.
“I’m not really a nervous kid. I think nerves and excitement bring the same type of energy to yourself,” Poehling explained. “I just try to get excited rather than nervous for things and that way you can perform better.”