The St. Cloud State University Huskies finished this season as the number one ranked team in the nation for the second consecutive year, with a 28-4-3 record.
Led by an experienced group of older players, St. Cloud was elite across the board. They scored a total of 142 goals – the second highest in the NCAA – and gave up just 75 in their end. They also had the seventh-best Corsi rating in the nation coming in at 55.8%.
However, the Huskies’ continued regular season success has yet to result in any hardware whatsoever. They’ve finished atop their conference three times in the six seasons since they joined the NCHC. They’ve also finished in the top-15 of the Pairwise ranking five times – including three top-two finishes.
And despite that, they’ve made no Frozen Four appearances over that time.
To start, St. Cloud has never been a recruiting powerhouse. Over the last six seasons, they’ve had just 13 NHL-drafted players on their roster. Of those 13 players, just two were drafted before the fourth round. One of them was Detroit Red Wings 2016 first-round pick Dennis Cholowski who played just 36 games before he left the program to join the Prince George Cougars of the WHL.
The other is Ryan Poehling, who was drafted 25th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft by the Montreal Canadiens.
Poehling finished his junior year regular season with eight goals and 23 assists for 31 points in 33 games. Although he doesn’t boast the gaudiest of numbers, what Poehling lacked in production, he made up for in other aspects of his game.
In fact, of Poehling’s 23 assists, 16 of them were primary assists (or A1). His .696 A1/A percentage led the team among players who had at least 10 assists this year.
He’s become an integral part of the success that St. Cloud has enjoyed over the past few seasons and despite some questions about his overall production, the 2019 World Junior Championship MVP has proven that regardless of whether he himself is scoring, he is St. Cloud’s best hope for finding the back of the net.
“[He creates] high-danger scoring [chances] for his teammates in all situations. He’s a plus-defensive player, having struck a balance between pressure and positioning. His stick work, undoubtedly, is one his defining traits. On the forecheck, he uses his stick to block plays up the middle and funnel them to the outside, where he has knack for stealing possession. On the backcheck, he always takes the extra stride to disrupt the carrier and recover possession.”
Poehling is going to have to continue the positive trend in his play if St. Cloud wants to earn a berth into the Frozen Four for the first time since 2013 when they made their first and only appearance; they lost to Quinnipiac 4-1.
The junior center’s game has progressed in leaps and bounds over the course of the season. Perhaps, in part, due to no longer being an underclassman on a relatively older team. Confidence is key and he clearly feels more empowered to take control of the game.
“The largest area of growth for Poehling between this year and last is his confidence as a puck handler”, says Brown.
“He’s found a way to attack with even more pace, while also not being able to beat defenders with his hands. He’s more patient in possession, staying active until he finds a lane rather than forcing a play.”
Pace is an interesting topic concerning Poehling. One of the major critiques of his game has been a perceived lack of foot-speed. This may be the second biggest criticism applied to Poehling aside from his lack of production.
But, does he truly lag in speed?
“[It’s] more that he lacks separation speed. [His] skating features a heavy usage of crossovers, which gives him smooth, consistent acceleration and sends out false information to defenders.”
He, most likely, isn’t going to blow past a defender in the neutral zone. That’s just not his game, he’s going to deceive the defender, goad him into making one too many pivots and then strike.
The Huskies will expect Poehling to continue to bring his patented creativity and dangerous passing ability as they progress through the National Tournament. They’ll certainly need him to as they’re set to face some stark competition over the next several weeks.
St. Cloud heads into the NCHC Frozen Faceoff as the first seed. They’ll face an inferior Colorado College in the first leg, but will find themselves facing the winner of the battle between Minnesota-Duluth and the University of Denver, in a larger war for the conference title and move on as an “automatic bid” into the National Tournament.
Sam Stern (@aqualunggg)
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