Montreal Canadiens: Ryan Poehling, Not Jeff Petry, Could Be Missed Dearly By Habs

Apr 21, 2022; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens center Ryan Poehling. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 21, 2022; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens center Ryan Poehling. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports /

The Montreal Canadiens were finally able to grant Jeff Petry his wish and trade him to a team based in the United States. The veteran defender wanted out since early last season to be closer to his family, and general manager Kent Hughes swing a deal to send him to Pennsylvania.

Petry and Ryan Poehling were traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Mike Matheson and a 4th round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. It wasn’t the return us fans had expected, as the trade opened up less than$1.5 million in cap space and also cost a promising young centre in Ryan Poehling.

In fact, though Petry played a huge part on the Canadiens roster for nearly the past decade, I think it is Poehling we will end up missing more in the coming years.

Petry has three years left on his contract and will fit in quite well behind Kris Letang on the Pens blue line. It is a role he excelled in while lining up second on the depth chart in Montreal behind Shea Weber for many years. The 34 year is likely to return to the top-20 scorers among defenders, but the Habs aren’t in a window to contend right now, so we won’t be wondering “what-if” next season as Petry scores 50 points in a Pens jersey.

However, the inclusion of Poehling in the deal has a chance to bite the Habs for years to come.

The 23 year old centre has the size, smarts, speed, defence and forechecking ability to become a perfect third line centre for a contending team in the future. He certainly hasn’t broken out offensively at the NHL level yet, but he scored 14 goals and 31 points in his last 35 games with the Laval Rocket.

That’s a 71 point pace over an 80 game AHL schedule, showing there is some offensive ability to the Minnesota native’s game. Poehling had just 17 points in 57 games for the Habs last season, but his most frequent wingers were Michael Pezzetta and Joel Armia, so there wasn’t much opportunity for piling up points.

Some recent former Canadiens were at the same point in their development at this age and turned into terrific two-way players.

Lars Eller had just 28 points in 79 games in the season he turned 23. He was a big centre with a two-way profile who continued to build his defensive game and has been an exceptional third line centre for the Washington Capitals since being traded there in 2016.

Phillip Danault turned 23 during the 2015-16 season and had just ten points in 51 NHL games that season. He had 38 points in 70 AHL games the year prior but continues to improve at both ends of the ice and was a key contributor on a surprisingly good Los Angeles Kings team this season.

Tomas Plekanec had 29 points in 67 games the year he turned 23. He had scored 64 points in 80 games in the AHL the season prior, and when given more offensive linemates he quickly turned into a two-way threat at the NHL level.

Is the same kind of two-way game in store for Poehling? The 2017 first round pick has shown some signs when given the right wingers to play with.

When saddled with Armia and Pezzetta, the numbers weren’t pretty. But Poehling’s next two most frequent linemates were Artturi Lehkonen and Cole Caufield, and things looked pretty good when he was on the ice with better players, especially great defensive players.

When Poehling and Lehkonen were on the ice together last season, the Canadiens created 63 scoring chances while allowing only 48 chances against. The Canadiens had nearly 53% of the shots on goal while this pair was on the ice together and their shot attempts were over 55%.

When on the ice with Brendan Gallagher, though it was not a huge sample size, Poehling also played extremely well. With Poehling and Gallagher on the ice, the Canadiens had almost 65% of the shot attempts, nearly 65% of shots on goal and created 28 scoring chances while allowing only 13.

What does that mean? Basically, a line of Lehkonen-Poehling-Gallagher was as good as Tatar-Danault-Gallagher were all those years they were together, though it was an extremely small amount of time they were together.

What it does show is that Poehling could still turn into a great two-way centre who maybe doesn’t pile up points, but can handle tough defensive assignments and keep the puck in the offensive zone far more than the defensive zone when he is one the ice.

If Poehling finds the right linemates in Pittsburgh, he could unlock a lot more offence while providing a great defensive presence in the lineup as well. He was a World Junior MVP and a nearly point per game AHLer for a reason, and he could be the one that makes this Jeff Petry-Mike Matheson swap look like a steal for the Pens.

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