Three months past his 20th birthday, Ryan Pulock is the youngest member of an already youthful Bridgeport Sound Tigers defensive corps.
Selected No. 15 by the New York Islanders at the 2013 NHL Draft, the Manitoba native came with a warning label: Highly offensive.
"You could see the potential [and] the upside," Sound Tigers coach Brent Thompson said of Pulock prior to his arrival in Bridgeport. "And you definitely can see his shot and the weapon that it is."
Over four seasons with Brandon in the Western Hockey League, Pulock scored 210 points in 261 regular-season games and 15 points in 24 playoff games. He finished among the Wheat Kings' top 10 scorers all four years, concluding his final season in Brandon 19 points ahead of the Wheat Kings' next-best defenseman.
In his first full professional season, New York Islanders 2013 first-round draft pick Ryan Pulock leads the American Hockey League with 10 power-play goals. (Photo: Puck Stopper Photography)
Now in his rookie season in the American Hockey League, Pulock is adjusting to the new demands of professional hockey.
"I want to be a two-way player. Offensively, I have the skills," said Pulock, who debuted with the Sound Tigers last April and played three games. "I like to use my shot and I'm continuing to work on the defensive zone so that I can be trusted out there in all situations and play big minutes when it matters for the team and help the team win."
The Sound Tigers are tied for ninth in the AHL's Eastern Conference, one point out of a playoff spot. They have points in four of their past six games and Pulock's immediate impact has been felt: He is tied for the team lead in goals (12) and fifth in scoring with 17 points through 28 games.
"I think the most impressive adjustment for him is the power play, the way he can still get a shot off," Thompson said. "He's adjusted very well to the timing as far as getting that shot off, or getting it through to the net. That's one huge thing that he's doing very, very well."
Huge and very, very well could almost be understatements for the prowess Pulock has shown with the extra man. His 10 power-play goals lead the AHL and have helped Bridgeport to a league-leading 24.3 percent conversion rate.
His offensive abilities earned him nods on the WHL's First All-Star Team for the Eastern Conference in 2011-12 and 2013-14. Pulock, whose name is scattered among the statistical leaderboards for rookies and defensemen, could be in line for AHL All-Star recognition when rosters are named next week for the league's midseason showcase.
With a young Sound Tigers blue line that includes rookies Griffin Reinhart, Jesse Graham and Adam Pelech, Pulock has been paired with Bridgeport captain Aaron Ness for the majority of the the season, something that has helped him flourish on the ice and get in the right mindset off of it.
"We're young, but with Ness, he's been around this league for a few years," Pulock said. "He's been up a bit, too, so he knows what it takes to get there and how hard it is to stick there and what you have to do. He's a good guy to be paired with every day."
Pulock has barely made a dent in his professional hockey career, but he knows what it will take to challenge and ultimately win a roster spot with the Islanders. He is confident in what he can bring to the Bridgeport roster and candid in what he is working on to not only help the Sound Tigers succeed, but to further mold himself into a future NHL player.
"I want to be harder to play against in the defensive zone. Those one-on-one battles down low, being physical with guys, eliminating them off the puck," he said. "I think other areas [to work on] are my transitions, moving the puck quick [and] getting it up to the forwards, making that first simple play."
Thompson, who played 14 pro seasons as a defenseman including 121 games in the NHL before retiring in 2005, cites Pulock's in-game assertiveness with and without the puck, and playing at a faster pace as two of the things he and his staff are working to improve.
"I never question his effort level or mindset coming to get better. That's a plus. That's a great thing to see in a prospect," Thompson added. "The Islanders did a great job of drafting a quality kid both on and off the ice."
All the pieces are there and Pulock is eager to continue piecing them together.
"I'm here trying to help Bridgeport succeed, but at the same time, I'm here trying to improve my game and be a complete player," Pulock said. "I think that's up to me to continue to improve every day so that I can get to the level of those players [in New York] and hopefully be able to play alongside them."
For the latest news, scores and stats from around the American Hockey League, visit theahl.com.