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Poehling: Eager to lead

Ryan Poehling arrived at Rookie Camp ready not only to deliver the goods offensively, but to set a good example for his peers

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL /

BROSSARD - It was just five short months ago that we were officially introduced to Ryan Poehling, the NHL goal-scorer.

Now, the 20-year-old Lakeville, MN native is ready to emerge as a young leader as well.

On Thursday, Poehling made it crystal clear that he plans on displaying far more than just his penchant for lighting the lamp in the coming days. 

Being a source of support and guidance for his fellow Rookie Camp attendees is also a top priority in his bid to secure a coveted roster spot with the Canadiens.

"When you're playing in the Rookie Tournament, it's all guys that are fighting for spots. That's difficult in the sense that when people make a mistake, they kind of hang their head on it. I think it's more so leading in terms of telling people, 'Hey, you made a mistake. It doesn't matter,' That's what hockey is," explained Poehling, referencing the upcoming three-team tournament in Belleville, ON this weekend which also features top prospects from the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets. "I think that's also kind of the big aspect for me this weekend."

Furthermore, the St. Cloud State University product doesn't mind being someone who inspires others to raise the level of their own game while trying to slow him down.

In fact, he expects it and wholeheartedly embraces the competition.

"I think everyone looks at me as someone they can look up to or someone that they can emulate themselves after and try to come after me. That's what you want," insisted Poehling, who is eager to impress the Habs' brass again following his epic NHL debut back on April 6 at the Bell Centre. "You want to see players come after the big guys. That's kind of what I'm looking forward to in this camp, having everyone look up to me in the sense where they're coming after me, too."

Video: Ryan Poehling on being a leader for the group at Camp

Interestingly enough, Poehling is already serving as a mentor to one youngster who isn't on site for Rookie Camp this time around - fellow first-round selection Cole Caufield, who is set to begin his NCAA career at the University of Wisconsin - Madison next month.

Having pursued the collegiate route himself, Poehling could certainly relate to everything his fellow American has gone through since being selected 15th overall in June.

"I think what I did is I looked too far ahead. We've Snapchatted quite a bit. I told him to just take it day by day. You've got to enjoy college. I know it's the future and you can look into it and it looks all great, but you don't realize how great college is and how many great friends you make," confided Poehling, of his talks with the Canadiens' hopeful. "Once you realize that, you'll appreciate the moment way more."

Sharing advice of that nature comes with maturity, of course, and there's no denying that life experience has paid serious dividends for Poehling in that department.

His down-to-earth approach to Rookie Camp is a good indicator that he isn't taking anything for granted right now.

"For myself, I think it's just me being me. That's how I got here, and that's how I think I can continue to stay in the League. For me to do that is just something that I kind of tell myself throughout the day," said Poehling. "I just try to stay level-headed and just kind of be the same guy that I was last year and the year prior. For me to just continue to do that is something I pride myself on."

Admittedly, living in the present - as opposed to thinking about his hockey future - has also been extremely beneficial for the former 25th-overall pick in 2017.

"I'm only 20 years old, so kind of just stay in the moment is something I've tried to do the last two or three years after I realized what I was doing," explained Poehling. "It's helped out a lot. It makes life way more fun."

As for the pressure that comes with having eyes aplenty fixed squarely on his every move on the ice, it doesn't faze him one bit.

"It's pressure, but you've got to like having pressure. Athletes in general, the best ones are ones that can handle pressure when it's at its highest points," emphasized Poehling. "So me with Montreal and everyone loving the game so much and being so in contact with it adds more pressure to it, but a true athlete will come out in the sense of that."

And the fact that he's brimming with confidence will undoubtedly help his cause going forward, too.

"I think I've always thought that I'm ready. That's why I made the jump," concluded Poehling, before expanding upon just how important his standout performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs was heading into the summer. "Also I feel like it was more reassurance. When you do that, you're like 'Ok. That's what I can do now in the League.' It just shows, 'Hey, I'm ready. I want to play in that League.' I would say it's more reassurance."

Catching up with Nick

As for Poehling's good buddy, Nick Suzuki, the 20-year-old London, ON native has his sights set on earning a roster spot with Montreal, too.

"It's really hard not to think about trying to crack the team. I see a lot of it on TV. Just a lot of coverage from the team and everyone's excited about the future," said Suzuki, following Thursday's on-ice session, which lasted approximately 45 minutes. "It's definitely hard not to think about myself being there."

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Nick Suzuki et les autres espoirs des Canadiens sont �� Brossard pour le d��but du camp des recrues!@nsuzuki_37 and other Habs hopefuls are in Brossard for the start of Rookie Camp.#GoHabsGo

With that goal in mind, Suzuki skated with some veteran NHLers during the offseason to further perfect his craft.

His hometown is a hockey hotbed, so he had the opportunity to hit the ice with the likes of Drew Doughty, Corey Perry, Travis Konecny and Lawson Crouse, among others.

Doughty, in particular, proved to be an important resource for Suzuki over the last few months.

"He just told me, 'You're a young guy and you have to earn your spot every day.' But coming to camp I don't have a spot, so I'm trying to take a spot from different guys and trying to show that I belong in the NHL. He did that at an early age and he did it all," explained Suzuki. "He's a Norris Trophy winner for a reason. I got to talk to him a lot because he played for Guelph and he came down to see us during our playoff run. I got to know him a lot better throughout the summer."

Video: Nick Suzuki on learning from NHLers over the summer

Suzuki will be looking to put all of that skating work to good use during the Rookie Tournament where he'll be shuffling between two positions.

"I think for this camp I'm going to be playing right wing and center just so I can get used to playing both right now, and moving forward to main camp being comfortable to play both positions," confirmed Suzuki. "I feel like I'm a good player at both positions and wherever I'm slotted, I can do well in. I don't mind at all. I grew up mostly playing center, but a lot of Junior years I was playing wing and I'm comfortable with both."

Suzuki's numbers this past season would certainly suggest that he's more than capable of doing serious damage from any position on the ice.

And he would relish the opportunity to show that come the NHL preseason.

"Playing in big games, bright lights and a lot of coverage on us [during the OHL Playoffs and the Memorial Cup], just having that experience was huge for me," concluded Suzuki, who registered 16 goals and 42 points in 24 games en route to leading the Storm to an OHL title. "I know I'm really looking forward to getting to the Bell Centre again hopefully and playing under even brighter lights."

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