Q: How do you think he fared last season as the only 17-year old playing NCAA?
A: He was the youngest player in college hockey last year, and it was hard. This is not junior hockey. He was playing against men, and as the year went on we could see it all, we’re around him every day. People questioned that he didn’t have a lot of points, but his track record prior to that…his junior year in high school was comparable to what Blake Wheeler did, and (Casey) Mittelstadt. He did everything those guys were doing. But he fast tracked and went on a different path. So then he gets scrutinized because he went on a different path. Well, we all needed to see that next step, and I think we really got a glimpse of what that’s going to be like in the summer. He’s started to come of age now. And personally, from being his coach here it was great to see.
I was impressed and I think it was great for Ryan from a confidence standpoint to feel it. It was a hard year last year. By the end of the year, we could play him in any situation and he was comfortable. At times I found last year it wasn’t so much of him being too young, he actually played too cautious at times where he didn’t want to make mistakes as a young player, and we saw that he needed to take a few more risks, but he was so conscious of always wanting to help the team, and I think that was the biggest factor in the lower numbers last year is the type of kid he is; he’s all about being a team player and doing whatever it is to be successful. That’s in his DNA makeup.
Q: He was criticized by some scouts for not shooting the puck enough last season. Your thoughts on that?
A: Growing up he played with his twin brothers…and all three in their own right are alpha males. But when you play with your two older brothers, they carried the load and I think he has a makeup of getting them the puck because they were on the same line and they were undefeated that year they won a state title, and then he comes to college and he’d only not been around his brothers for one year.
I think now we’re going to start to see Ryan take on his own game and become his own true player. His consciousness on not making mistakes…I think part of it is he has deferred to his brothers to make sure he got them the puck. I’m sure as his older brothers they’re screaming at you “give it to me..give it to me.”
And now he’s got to say “No..its my turn”. He’s got to shoot more and got to get more confidence in what he can do offensively. It’s there…we got a little peek of it this summer at the camp. It’s all part of the development process.
Q: How would you compare him against other 17-year-olds that have played college hockey since you began coaching?
A: The only other 17-year old I remember in college was (Thomas) Vanek. You don’t see many kids period that graduate early and move on to college. I know it’s become more common but it was the first for us.
The one thing that we knew last year, and this was what we told the family; we needed a center and it was midway through his junior year, we looked at him, and his size and what he’s capable of, and we said: “Let’s give it to him”. We had to put him in a higher role than he probably should have been last season. We didn’t have the high support center and the older guy, and so from a developmental standpoint, we stuck with our game plan. We never wavered.
We were coming off a pretty strong run; we’d won 30 games the year before and we’d graduated a lot of players, so we knew that we’d be young. and I liked our team last year. We are going to benefit from it in the future. To use Ryan as an example, I think you saw this summer we’re going to benefit from it, and Ryan’s going to benefit from it and we move forward.
Q: Expecting a good jump from him offensively?
A: “Absolutely. Our whole team is taking that next step. So not only Ryan will be taking it but we’ll have a handful of other players, so there’s going to be a much larger support cast for him. The freshman and sophomores last year were really the core of our offence. We have one of the top returning offences now in the country.
All players genetically are at different points in their development. He’s a long lanky body, and you’re going to see him just take huge strides over the next two summers. You’ll really see his body start turning from boy to man and then the strength from the training…versus certain players that already have that leg strength and power at a younger age.
Ryan also plays a very hard game. His shifts…he is busy his entire shift. He’s working defensively. He’s working the backcheck. You break him down, and he has so many attributes – a high-energy skilled center. There’s not fancy in him, he’s getting after it, and that’s the big thing; his body, from a developmental standpoint, as he keeps growing and gets stronger and physically hits that, he’s going to become that much more dominant where he’s going to have money in the bank to deliver the punches he wants to throw.
Q: I have said that he reminds me of Ryan Kesler.
A: Yes. I think the reference out here being in Minnesota is that he’s kind of like Mikko Koivu too. He can kill penalties, he can be on a power play, he can play in the defensive zone, he can play against top guys. I see him in all those roles.
What we need to see over the next couple of years is where is he at his best…and if it’s all of those then he needs the physique to be able to handle all of those minutes…and he wants them all. That’s the fun thing with him.
Q: Do you see him being a top-two center in the NHL?
A: Yeah, that’s what we saw this summer. I saw it last year towards the end of the year. The numbers weren’t showing it but his confidence was growing. Early in the year we kind of had to watch his minutes, by the end of the year we didn’t care. Then the question was whether there was going to be more offence, and I think the summer was another look under the hood, and here it comes, we’re going to see more. Let’s just continue on the developmental path we’re on, and I bet good things are going to happen.
He’s responsible. You just saw how many times he’s back on the backcheck, and he knows what he has to do, stealing pucks. He knows where to be down low. When you have a player that young…and I’m not sure there’s a situation that he can’t be in…it’s just where is he going to hone in and be the most dominant at is going to be the fun thing to figure out. I think that’s the most exciting is that there’s really not a spot you can’t put him, and that’s why the reference always comes out: “Is he a top-two-line center?” There might be a day down the road where we’re going to say “Well, he might be a top center.” We’re saying (second-line center) now because of offence, and that may change.
Q: Poehling impressed me at the Summer Showcase in terms of his skating improvement. What are your thoughts?
A: It’s just strength – when it comes to his skating. That body…he just plays so hard. The first 30 seconds are all out. There’s no pace to his game, and he’s never going to have pace. He’s going to play at a high level when he crawls over the boards; you’ve gotta have the body to handle that. That’s what he’s working on as a 17-year-old turning 18. I think there’s some toughness in him. I think he’s got a little rugged side too.
Q: What were your thoughts about Montreal being able to land him with the 25th pick in the draft?
A: I don’t follow the draft enough to have a number, but once again, when it’s all said and done, I can’t believe Montreal isn’t going to be pretty excited they got him. Five years later, six years later not many people are talking about where they got you, it’s what you’re doing, I would go on the side right now that they got an awfully good hockey player.
Q: You do realize that he is not likely going to be with you for the full four years I hope?
A: I sit back and I get it. I’ve seen enough now with guys that come through. I think he should be here for three years, and I think he’ll be ready after three. He’s with his brothers…I would never hold a kid back too long, but I think sometimes the pros take guys too early. Being around him now, it’s the physical strength process with him because of genetics, and then it’s a confidence thing. When he dominates at this level…he’s ready to go. When that body gets there and he leads this hockey team and he’s the go-to guy that leads us to big wins, he’s ready to go. I think sometimes that’s a step we underestimate, our players becoming leaders before turning pro.
Q: I have a scouting friend in your area who did a lot of legwork on Poehling and can’t say enough good things about his character. What are your thoughts?
A: Oh God…you just…I love the kid. I think the world of him. I haven’t seen one thing that brings a dent on his character. He’s a team player, he wants to please and he wants to work. There’s just no gray area about him. He’s just young. How he handled last year I think was great. If he had frustration he never showed it. How he handled things he went through this summer…I just see his demeanour, and the biggest thing, the telling tale. I can say anything I want, but when he has the respect of his teammates; that’s the ultimate measuring stick. When your teammates, they’re all in – and they are – our players they’re behind this guy 100 percent, and that’s all I need to know.
Q: He’s the type of player that should be wearing a letter on his sweater in the future.
A: Ha ha. There’s no question, but his two brothers want it too. It’s a crazy dynamic I tell you. When we recruited all three people were saying you got the twins to get Ryan, but we wanted them too. The twins they play a high level. These kids come from a background of pretty high privilege, but you would never know it. They just want to compete. To watch them play the year they went undefeated in high school…they played so hard and were so determined.
The twins are true alpha males in how they want to get things done. Ryan is his own animal..they’re not triplets. It’s going to be fun.