Ryan Poehling and Jake Oettinger are best of buds.
The St. Cloud State center and Boston University goaltender grew up a three-minute drive from each other, work out and skate together in the summer, golf at Legends three or four days a week and spend their July and August weekends wakesurfing and jet skiing at the Poehlings’ cabin in Bone Lake, Wis.
“If the team that drafts us doesn’t have their development camp that week, for sure we’ll be up at my cabin on the Fourth of July,” Poehling said. “That’s always a good time.”
Poehling, the 13th-ranked North American skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service, and Oettinger, the top-rated North American goalie, will live their dreams together when they’re drafted by NHL teams this weekend in Chicago. There’s a chance the 18-year-olds born 16 days apart each could go in Friday’s first round.
After playing together only their freshman year at Lakeville North, Oettinger says, “It’s pretty cool to do this with Ryno. If you’d have told us that we would be going through this process together and we both would have the chance to get drafted four or five years ago, I don’t think that we would have believed you.”
After losing in the state championship game in 2014 to Edina, Oettinger made the choice to join the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. Oettinger knew the Panthers were capable of winning a state title the following year, which they did. But, he said, “If playing in the NHL was really my ultimate goal, the sacrifice was going to be worth the reward.”
Oettinger won gold and bronze medals with the Under-18 team at the world championships, then backstopped the U.S. to gold at the 2017 world juniors. He ended up with a scholarship to BU (“maybe I don’t get that look playing in Minnesota”), where he went 21-11-3 with a 2.11 goals-against average and .927 save percentage as a freshman.
“It was an awesome year,” he said. “I had a ton of fun, and I love BU, and I can’t wait to get back on the ice next year with our team. I think we’re going to have a really special group.”
Now, Oettinger might become the highest drafted Minnesota-born goalie in NHL history (Jeff Frazee, 38th overall, 2005). Not bad for a defenseman until age 10.
But, Oettinger never got that chance at a state title with childhood pals such as Poehling.
“Obviously, it was the right decision for himself, but it was hard and I still rip him for it,” Poehling said, laughing.
Early to college
At Lakeville North during his sophomore year, Poehling got to reach the pinnacle alongside his senior twin brothers, Jack and Nick, by going 31-0. The following year, Lakeville North lost in the section final to Farmington.
“Growing up in Minnesota as a high school kid, everyone dreams about playing in the state tournament,” Poehling said. “And for me that was something very special, not to just play for it, to win it, too. I remember watching guys like Nick Leddy, Jake Gardiner, Aaron Ness, playing in the state tournament. That’s for sure the greatest moment of my hockey career. Doing it with your best buddies and literally two of my brothers is cool because you’re going to share a memory with those guys even when you’re 10 years down the road and maybe some of us are playing NHL hockey.
“But when we got a chance to do that my sophomore year, I had to reset my goal, and I felt like that [St. Cloud] was the best way to reach my next goal.”
Poehling led Lakeville North with 62 points as a junior and accelerated his way onto the Huskies as an underage freshman. He got to play on the same team as his fellow freshman 20-year-old brothers.
“To be 2 ½ years younger but to be the same age school-wise is definitely weird,” Poehling said.
Transitioning to college hockey, Poehling finished with 13 points in 35 games and impressed at both the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, where he led the tourney with four goals, and the gold medal-winning Under-18 championship in Slovakia, where he had three goals and five points in seven games.
“It was my first time moving away from home,” Poehling said of his first taste of St. Cloud State. “And at 17 years old, that’s not the easiest thing to do. Especially the college atmosphere. And then on the ice for me it was strength. You’re playing guys that are five, six years older than you, they could be 24 years old.
“My goal has always been not to just playing the NHL but have a career in the NHL. I want to fully develop before I make that next jump.”
Poehling, who’s 6-3, 190 pounds, is considered a smart, skilled, 200-foot player. Oettinger, at 6-4, 193 pounds, is a positional goalie who’s calm, controlled and poised … as he demonstrated during his 56-save, double-overtime win over North Dakota in the NCAA West Regional in Fargo.
In front of scores of friends and family Friday or Saturday, they’ll be humbled to join the likes of Brady Skjei, Charlie Lindgren and Ryan Lindgren as the latest two Lake-ville kids to possibly be headed to the NHL.
“It’s been a long, long process,” Poehling said. “It hasn’t been an easy one. There’s excitement all around for it to actually happen and just to be done with, and we can move on.”