Ryan Pulock’s reputation preceded him coming into the NHL.
He was known for his booming slap shot, which made a lot of noise in Brandon, Manitoba – the Western Hockey League’s eastern-most outpost.
It’s easy to see only that in his game, especially when he’s hitting 105 mph on the radar gun, but Pulock proved that there’s more to his offensive side, whether he was leading rushes or reading defenses as a power-play quarterback. And he did it in the playoffs, no less.
“Growing up through junior I’ve always been that player where I’ve been in the rush a lot, creating offensively,” Pulock said. “I think it was only a matter of time while I was here gaining that confidence and feeling comfortable out there. I was able to do it a bit at the end.”
Creating offense means knowing when to pass, as well as shoot. Perhaps one of the added benefits of being known for a Johnny Boychuk-esque slap shot is that other teams are expecting it. In Game 4 of the 2016 playoffs against the Florida Panthers (and the regular-season finale vs. Philadelphia) Pulock wound up for big drive, only to find a seam and pass it off.
Against the Panthers, he found John Tavares for a power-play goal. Against the Flyers, he placed the puck onto Matt Martin’s stick for a backdoor tap-in. He had three points (1G, 2A) in six playoff games.
“That’s what we want to see,” coach Jack Capuano said. “When Ryan came in, he was playing a little safe. He wasn’t as assertive as he needed to be.”
The coach told a story about how, despite a neutral-zone turnover against the Tampa Bay Lightning that led to a goal, he liked that Pulock was comfortable taking risks, playing the way that got him here.
“For me as a coach, you want to see that confidence,” Capuano said. “As a young player he’s really shown that leadership qualities about him.”
With seven Islanders defensemen on one-way contracts to start the season, Pulock didn’t start the year with the big club, heading back to Bridgeport. The initial disappointment turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Pulock had time to improve the defensive aspect of his game. He wasn’t on pace to score 17 goals like he did as an AHL rookie, but the experience helped him earn a call-up, and prepared him for the game at the top level.
“Defensively I learned a lot,” Pulock said. “At the start of the year I had a bit of a slow start and kind of relied back on my defensive game and really focused on that. Once I did that I kind of started playing better offensively as well and I think it’s important to be an offensive d-man, but it’s important to be reliable in your own zone and I think figuring that out in Bridgeport this year helped me demonstrate that in the playoffs.”
He’s got deceptive skating ability for a 6-foot-2, 215-pound defenseman, two attributes that will pair nicely with his game going forward. He’s still going to have to battle fellow prospects – and Sound Tigers teammates – Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech for the final spots on the team, as the Islanders have five defensemen under contract for the next season. But he knows it and as Capuano has said in the past, internal competition is good for the Islanders.
“There are a lot of guys in my position and not many spots,” Pulock said. “To get that taste of playing here in the playoffs, it gets a fire going inside of you and it’s going to drive me to have a good summer and to come back.
“I think for myself, I’ve kind of realized that I can come in here and not just be a 5/6 d-man that gets by. I think I can push for more playing time and help out offensively and help the team win that way. Obviously it’s going to come from within myself and having a good summer.”
Pulock is soft-spoken and a reserved guy, so for him to even say that seems like a big leap from the quiet kid the Islanders drafted in 2013. Perhaps tenacity on the ice has led to a confidence off the ice as well, but there’s no denying Pulock progressed this season, much to the joy of the Islanders who have high hopes for him. Capuano summed it up:
“He’s got a bright future in this league, as long as he stays on the right path.”