CHICAGO - Ryan Poehling likely won't solve the Canadiens' issues at center in the short term, but his selection is certainly a step in the right direction.
Over the last few days, the Habs' brass reiterated that re-stocking the cupboards with prospects at several positions was a top priority, particularly at center.
The Canadiens obviously weren't the only franchise hoping to improve up the middle since 13 squads selected centermen before it was finally their turn to step up to the microphone at No. 25 on Friday night at the United Center.
And, in Ryan Poehling, the Canadiens firmly believe they have a player that will ultimately be productive down the road. It's far too early to know when that moment will come, but they're prepared to be patient.
"Personally, I've only seen him play once. It was at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament. He's a good centerman with good size. We think he plays the right way. In other words, he's good offensively, but doesn't cheat defensively. He's the type of player that you can win with on your team," said general manager Marc Bergevin, moments after selecting the St. Cloud State University product.
Video: Bergevin on selecting Poehling in the first round
"I met him at the Combine and on Thursday morning, too. You can't really put too much stock in what comes out of those types of interviews, but when I spoke to him on Thursday, I saw a young man who understands what it will take to get to the National Hockey League," continued Bergevin. "He still has a lot of work to do, but we project him to be a very good future centerman for the Canadiens."
Over the last few months, Poehling closed out his freshman year in the NCAA ranks with the Huskies, amassing seven goals - including two game-winners - and six assists in 35 games. Listed as the 14th best prospect amongst North American hopefuls in the mid-season rankings released by NHL Central Scouting, the Lakeville, MN native climbed the ladder during the last few weeks when the final rankings were revealed.
The already imposing 18-year-old young gun - who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 177 pounds - added 10 pounds of muscle since his season came to a close. With only one year of collegiate experience under his belt, though, he doesn't see himself turning pro this fall. When the right moment comes is anybody's guess, but Poehling believes it could come sooner rather than later.
"When you go to the NHL, you better be ready to play. For me, especially after my first year, I don't see myself making the jump to the pros right away. I still have a lot of development to do. That's a big part of me, too. When this college year ends, we'll see where we go from here," admitted Poehling, who also played a few games in the USHL in 2015-16 after graduating from high school.
Last year was a busy one for the newest member of the Canadiens' fold. In addition to suiting up for St. Cloud, Poehling represented the United States twice internationally, most notably claiming a gold medal at the 2017 World Under-18 Championship.
Canadiens fans will be happy to know that he models his game after that of another centerman who has often given Montreal trouble - Ryan O'Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres. But, before going up against the likes of O'Reilly in the NHL, Poehling knows that certain parts of his game still need improvement.
"There are the usual clichés where you want to be a faster skater, have a better shot and stuff like that. For me, I'm trying to be more direct towards the net and in the offensive zone. I consider myself a pass-first person. I'm trying to get away from that," explained Poehling.
Video: Poehling on being selected by the Canadiens
"Defensively, I still try to work on it. The thing that I've noticed is that sometimes I got a little bit too impatient and chased guys around," continued Poehling, who finished the 2016-17 campaign with a minus-8 differential. "I'm going to draw back a little more and choose the right time to attack."
After the media circus that comes with being a first-round pick finally wrapped up, Poehling had the chance to spend some quality time with his family, including his older brothers, Jack and Nick, who were his teammates with St. Cloud last season.
While he would have preferred to be selected earlier, he couldn't have been happier to leave the United Center sporting a Canadiens cap and jersey of his own. And, becoming a member of the same organization that selected his uncle, Stan Palmer, 40 years ago, made Friday night's festivities even more special.
"I've never been a numbers guy. If you get picked fifth or 25th, you're still the same person. To land in such an elite organization like the Canadiens, I couldn't be happier," concluded Poehling.