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Healthy Skratch: Ryan Poehling Caught in The Shadows

The Montreal Canadiens set fire to the league at the beginning of the season. Then, as quickly as they took off, they completely fell apart. At this point of the season, they now find themselves at a crossroads. They haven’t necessarily looked incredible, but they also have been performing better than people seem to be giving them credit for.

As per usual, there hasn’t been a shortage of storylines surrounding this franchise throughout it all. There are only 3 certainties in life: Death, taxes and big sports markets dissecting every aspect of their team. Between coaching changes, goalie debates and the constant chatter about the lack of high-end elite talent, Habs fans are certainly not lacking in talking points or topics for debate. However, tucked away behind all these (valid) criticisms and points of contention, is the emergence of one Ryan Poehling down in Laval.

Drafted 25th overall in 2017, Poehling was immediately placed at the top of the Habs prospect pool. Whether you think that ranking was legitimately due to his ability on the ice, or rather was a sign of just how bare the cabinets were at the time, there is no denying the general hype that came along with the Minnesota born player. Now, despite what my friends may say, I usually try to be a little subjective before buying into the hype. Something I have had to learn the hard way being a Habs fan my whole life. However, after hearing voices that aren’t a part of the Habs media landscape talk about the potential they believe he has, there does seem to be a real consensus that there is NHL level talent there.

I’ll be honest here, like many, I spend way too much time on Twitter. It is exactly where I was first exposed to the notion that people were already considering Poehling a bust. Now, I’m not claiming I know anything about prospects, nor anything about how they develop. I barely know anything about this sport, aside from the fact that I love it. That being said, I do have a strong feeling that it may be a little premature to label a guy, who has played as little as 28 games at the NHL level, a bust.

I think there are two main catalysts behind this narrative. The first being something that most prospects fall victim to; not being good enough, fast enough. That they don’t come out of the gate running, as an elite like Crosby or McDavid would. There seems to be this general notion around all fanbases that if they don’t have it right away, maybe they just don’t have it all. Clearly rooted in years of being spoiled by watching elite talent grow year after year. This mindset automatically sets up any hockey fan for disappointment.

Especially considering the jump in hockey from any league to the NHL is arguably one of the biggest among all jumps in professional sports. Hockey fans have an incredibly short wick when it comes to the patience they have for their prospects, which is simply caused by unrealistic expectations. Not every player is an instant star, thankfully so. Players need time to grow and complete their game. So, unless you’re picking top 10 (and that’s being extremely generous), there is no real reason you should expect any sort of immediate impact.

The second issue people seem to have with his development is that they’re not seeing enough offence out of him. I’ll be frank with all of you, before the Habs drafted him I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of a crowd to save my life. Since the draft however, I have tried to keep a closer eye on him. Which has led to me being extremely confused as to where fans ever got the notion that Poehling was picked for his offensive ability in the first place. I’m not saying that he doesn’t have an offensive side to his game, but from all accounts that’s not what sold him to the club. He put up decent numbers in college, but what really caught everyone’s attention was his all-around game. His ability to play a responsible style of game in all situations, in all 3 zones. That’s why the Habs drafted him. Therefore, why act as if he is some offensive bust, when he was never even drafted for his ability to show up on the scoresheet in the first place.

To top it all off, the fact that he scored a hattrick in his NHL debut, along with a goal in the shootout against the team’s biggest rival, most certainly did not help temper anyone’s expectations. What a night that was and what a way to end a disappointing season. Ultimately though, that wild night that every kid dreams of for an NHL debut, may not have been to his benefit.  

All this stems from a much bigger issue that’s prevalent in every market around the league, and that’s the unreasonable expectations placed on these athletes. It’s about time people look at prospects for what they really are, rather than what they would like them to be. Some will become dominant, many will fall short, and most will find themselves somewhere in the middle. The good news is that for the first time in what seems like forever, the big club is doing alright up the middle. With KK and Suzuki handling themselves, along with Danault making me eat my words, there’s absolutely no need to rush him. He can take all the time he needs in Laval to hone his skills before we start shouting bust and failure in his face.

He’s looked great in Laval. Many have. The Habs AHL system is no longer the graveyard it once was, and there is no reason to believe that his time down there will do anything but prepare him for the big stage. The foundation of an NHL regular is there. He just needs time.

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