Less than one year ago, the Lincoln Stars were on the clock with the first overall pick in the 2015 USHL Phase I Draft. After finishing last in the 2014-15 season, Lincoln needed to find an impact forward that would potentially benefit the club in a year or two. Lakeville North High School’s Ryan Poehling joined the USHL Draft show studio live on the phone, excited that Lincoln had chosen him first overall.
Poehling, the younger brother of Jack and Nick Poehling (Green Bay Gamblers), noted that he was committed to continue his development at Lakeville North for at least one more season, but was looking forward to playing in Lincoln down the road.
He is now expected to make his USHL debut, donning the blue and white Lincoln Stars uniform, this weekend.
“If I just go out there and play my game I should be fine,” said Poehling. “I’m obviously a little nervous but I think if I go out there and do that and win the little battles and play good in the d-zone I should do fine.”
In his second season with Lakeville North, prior to the USHL Draft, Poehling scored 38 points and 14 goals in 25 games, skating on a line with his two twin brothers. This past season, as the leader of the Lakeville North offense, Poehling scored 20 goals and 54 points in 25 games.
That kind of production from a young player has the Lincoln Stars front office excited about what he can bring to the team in its hunt for a Clark Cup championship.
“He put up offensive numbers around two-points per game and proved he’s worthy of playing junior hockey at a young age,” said Lincoln Stars general manager Jon Hull. “Ryan is a big and talented elite skater. He’s a good skater who extends offensive position with his skill and hockey IQ and fits well with our team. You think Ludvig Hoff, Tanner Laczynski, those bigger centermen who distribute the puck well and play fast. I think he fits into that mold as well.”
Poehling noted he has confidence in his offensive game, but would like to take the time in Lincoln to focus on his play in the defensive zone. Compared to high school hockey, Poehling will be accounted for more in all three zones rather than sitting back and waiting for the puck to come to him.
Lincoln Stars staff echoed that concern, knowing most young players need an adjustment period in the USHL when they first arrive.
“We want him to step in and give a complete effort,” added Hull. “When you have a player with as much skill and size those little things take care of themselves. We want to make it a comfortable scenario for him and have him develop in Lincoln and be ready for college and leave his mark on Lincoln. We’re excited.”
For now, Poehling is commuting back and forth from home to Lincoln. He has been surprised by how much he enjoys the town and has had the benefit of living with his dad while on the road. And for the legendary Ice Box, it’s something he’s excited to experience first hand.
When he hits the ice, Poehling will be just the 19th 16-year old to play in the USHL this season, not including Team USA U17 team, joining the likes of Eeli Tolvanen, Shane Bowers, Brannon McManus, Joey Keane and Clayton Phillips.
“It’s a great league, there’s only 17 teams so it’s hard to get in and everyone who does is a great hockey player,” said Poehling. “I think it’s a big developmental league and I think that’s really good for me and I can use that. Now that my high school season is over, so instead of going to watch the state tournament I can play hockey and get my mind off of things.”
Lincoln currently sits second in the Western Conference with a 28-20-1-0 record and has a serious chance to make a run at the Clark Cup. Poehling could potentially provide a boost to an offense that already ranks second in the Western Conference in production.
Poehling has 11 potential games to navigate his way through the USHL and get a sense of what might be to come. Lincoln has a chance to secure home ice at the Ice Box where they are 15-8-0-0 this season. Oh yeah, one other note about Lincoln’s remaining 11 games: they end the season against Green Bay and Ryan's twin brothers.
“We’ve talked about that many times and we’ve obviously always played with each other so it’ll be a little weird to begin with but hopefully Lincoln comes out on top of that one,” said Poehling. After some prodding, a prediction was made as well. “4-1 we win.”
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 14th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2015-16. A record 37 players were chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft and more than 375 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.