VOORHEES, N.J. – Daniel Briere made it known he would only sign a free agent if he didn’t have to take on a long-term contract.
So when news broke shortly after the start of NHL free agency on Saturday that the Flyers general manager had signed 24-year-old center Ryan Poehling to a one-year, $1.4-million contract, most viewed it as a savvy transaction.
With the Flyers in a committed rebuild devoted to youth, this is the kind of player it made sense to add to the Philadelphia roster.
Later in the day, the Flyers signed another free agent, Rhett Gardner, to a two-year, two-way $1.55-million contract
“To add some depth,” Briere said. “I think with Ryan, the upside is pretty interesting at his age, the position that he can play, wing or center. It’s very exciting. I think I’t right in line with what we’re trying to do. It gives our young guys a chance to play, I think he fits in with that timeline.”
Poehling, a 6-2, 196-pound two-way player was a first round (25th overall) pick by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
He played college hockey at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.
The Lakeville, Minnesota native signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Canadiens, joining the team for the remainder of the season.
He showed some offensive skill with his very first game as a Canadien.
During his NHL debut in Montreal’s season-closing game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 6, 2019, Poehling scored a hat trick, the first Canadiens player to achieve this feat since Alex Smart on January 14, 1943. This was then followed by a goal in the shootout, winning the game for the Canadiens.
A wrist injury, which required surgery, cut short his season in May, 2021.
As a restricted free agent with the Canadiens, Poehling was signed to a two-year contract extension, with the final year of his deal on a one-way basis on August 27, 2021.
On the heels of a successful season in the AHL, there were expectations that Poehling would make the Canadiens lineup in one of the center positions vacated following the off-season departures of Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
After a poor training camp, he was sent down to the AHL again on Oct. 13, shortly after the Canadiens claimed centerman Adam Brooks from the Maple Leafs off waivers.
On July 16, 2022, Poehling was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, along with defenseman Jeff Petry, in exchange for defenseman Mike Matheson and a fourth-round pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
Briere said he was pretty active in talks with other free agents but nothing came of those discussions.
“We inquired on a lot of different players,” he said. “Again, on free agency, you saw the money that was thrown left and right. One day we might be there, be in a position that makes sense to do that. I just didn’t feel right now it’s what is needed for the direction we’re going in.”
There was the possibility of adding a more experienced, more proven talent. Again, any candidates like that didn’t fit what the Flyers are looking for at the moment.
“We did look into more of a veteran presence,” Briere said. “Both in the lineup and upfront and on defense. We just didn’t find the proper fit today. But we’re going to keep looking. We just didn’t find anything that made sense today.”
The Flyers have a history of strong fourth-line centers and Poehling might be able to fill that role.
“I think the opportunity that he’s facing here. . .he has the chance to move up and down the lineup depending on how he plays,” Briere said. “I think the type of person he is, a character guy, he showed it by betting on himself. Shows the type of character he has – he didn’t take the longer, secure deal.
“He wants to earn it. I think he’ll have that chance with ‘Torts’ (coach John Tortorella). Torts is fair. He (Poehling) is not afraid to work. He can kill penalties, he brings us speed, an area that we wanted to improve on in our lower six.”
Gardner, 27, tallied 10 goals/40 points in 71 games with the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League (AHL) during the 2022-23 season.
The 6-3, 210-pound native of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, ranked second on the team in shorthanded goals (two), third in plus/minus rating (plus-26) and fifth in assists.
The left-shot center owns 30 goals/85 points in 205 AHL contests in five seasons with Texas (2019-22) and has four goals/eight points in 10 Calder Cup playoff games. He was originally selected by the Dallas Stars in the fourth round (116th overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft and made his NHL debut on Oct. 5, 2019 at St. Louis. He has one goal/two points in 40 NHL games Dallas in parts of three seasons (2019-22).