The Pittsburgh Penguins added a couple of potential difference-makers to their lineup via trades on Saturday.
They got Ryan Poehling, too.
He was not, to be sure, the headliner in the deal that sent Mike Matheson and a fourth-round draft choice to Montreal for Poehling and defensemen Jeff Petry; the best evidence of that might be that, of the nine questions GM Ron Hextall fielded from reporters after making that deal and the one that sent John Marino to New Jersey for Ty Smith and a draft choice, exactly one pertained to Poehling.
Of course, Petry will fill a prominent role on the Penguins’ blue line during the coming season, and it’s certainly possible that Smith will, too.
Poehling, meanwhile, figures to contend for a spot on one of the bottom two lines, since the top two are set. (Assuming Ron Hextall doesn’t make another trade, of course.)
But while Poehling had a pretty ordinary run with the Canadiens, Hextall says a lot of scouts saw significant potential in him before Montreal claimed Poehling with the 25th choice in the 2017 draft.
“I can speak for my staff (in Philadelphia) when Ryan was drafted,” Hextall said. “We really liked him.” He added that some members of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ scouting staff who were around at that time felt the same way about Poehling.
Their enthusiasm was understandable; Poehling is 6-foot-2, 196 pounds and skates well. Trouble is, some scouting reports suggest that his playmaking sometimes suffers when he’s operating at high speed and that inconsistency has been a problem.
Poehling, 23, broke into the NHL in a most dramatic fashion — he had a hat trick and scored the shootout winner in his debut with the Canadiens on April 6, 2019 — but that’s the pinnacle of his pro career to this point.
He has 13 goals and nine assists in 85 career NHL games, including nine goals and eight assists in 57 during 2021-22.
“He’s a big body who is going to get better,” Hextall said. “Things haven’t gone exactly, I don’t think, the way he would have liked them to go in Montreal. Sometimes, a change can spur a guy on.
“We’re hoping he can be good two-way player for us. He’s got good size. He plays the middle of the ice. He can also play the wing, so we feel pretty good about the acquisition.”
Poehling is listed as a center, but given the Pittsburgh Penguins’ strength down the middle — they have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger at center — he might well be moved to the wing during training camp.
While most of his statistics are pedestrian, Poehling has at least one number that appealed to the Penguins: His salary-cap hit of $750,000.
“You look at our salary cap, and that’s another guy we can fit under the (cap ceiling),” Hextall said.
He has collected a few other low-cost forwards — guys like Drake Caggiula and Josh Archibald — during the past few days, but acknowledged that he might not be able to add more. Per CapFriendly.com, the Penguins have just under $2 million in cap space left, and still must work out a deal with restricted free agent Kasperi Kapanen.
“It’s difficult right now because of our salary-cap situation,” Hextall said. “I feel pretty comfortable with our group, depth-wise. We don’t have a whole lot of money to spend here under the cap.”