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Pulkkinen finally showed his true form

by John McGourty
Finnish-born left wing Teemu Pulkkinen wasn't too upset at last month's NHL Scouting Combine when doctors told him he wouldn't be allowed to take part in the strenuous physical testing.

Doctors told Pulkkinen, No. 17 among European skaters on NHL Central Scouting's final rankings of players for the 2010 Entry Draft, that without medical information about the two surgeries he underwent this past season they couldn't be certain he wouldn't injure himself in one of the strength tests.

Pulkkinen was told to submit that medical information to NHL Central Scouting so it could be distributed to interested teams.

"The information arrived here about a week after the Combine," NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire said. "It's available to any team that's interested in him."

There's plenty of interest. So much so that Pulkkinen flew from his Helsinki home to Toronto knowing it was unlikely he would undergo the physical testing.

"I had 21 interviews with NHL teams," he said.

Pulkkinen is a 5-foot-11, 183-pound, wide-bodied, right-handed shooter who can play either wing. He led the Finnish Junior B league two years ago with 36 goals and 60 points in 32 games. A year earlier, he was the MVP of the annual Pohjola Camp, which helps set the national team for the World Under-16 championship.

Pulkkinen is a quiet young man with strong determination and interesting insights. When asked for role models, he avoided the usual shopping list of top NHL stars and made a logical point.

"Right-handed shots, like me," Pulkkinen said. "(Alexander) Ovechkin, (Ilya) Kovalchuk and (Steven) Stamkos -- all good goal scorers. I want to be a goal scorer, so I admire them."

Pulkkinen moved to Jokerit's junior team in 2008-09, and had 15 goals and 28 points in 24 games. It was enough to earn him three games with Jokerit in the Finnish Elite League. He had 3 goals and 9 points in five games for Finland in the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge and stepped up into the older bracket to record 7 goals and 13 points in six games at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship.

But then life and hockey became complicated for Pulkkinen. This past season he got a full-time spot with Jokerit's Elite League team, but struggled with 1 goal and 3 points in 12 games. It was a season nearly lost due to a trio of injuries -- the lingering effects of knee surgery following the 2008-09 season, a broken wrist, and a separated shoulder.

Pulkkinen had wrist surgery after his demotion and missed three months. When he recovered he played with the junior team, where he had 20 goals and 41 assists in 17 games, and 3 goals and 6 points in four playoff games.

"I played with the Jokerit men's team about 10 games in the preseason," Pulkkinen said. "Then when the regular season started, we played bad. We were losing lots of games and then I broke my wrist. I had surgery and they put a pin in my wrist. It's going to stay in and the wrist is now good."

After the season, Pulkkinen led Finland to its second straight World U-18 bronze medal. He had 10 goals and 15 points in six games -- an outstanding performance that made it clear his wrist was better and that he could be a dominating player when combined with effective linemates, like center Mikael Granlund and winger Joonas Donskoi.

Granlund is the No. 1-rated European skater, while Donskoi is No. 14.

"I had good luck and good linemates," Pulkkinen said. "My linemates were amazing. I just had to put the puck to the net on the back door to Donskoi. He's a hard-working guy, good skater. I like to play with him. He's also a right-handed shot. He works hard. Granlund is an awesome playmaker with great hockey sense. He can do everything on the ice, so he's a great playmaker. It's fun to play with him.

"We played well but lost in the semifinal, 5-0, to Team USA, our only loss. They were good."

So was Pulkkinen, who was named the tournament's best forward and earned a spot on the tournament all-star team.

And then he had shoulder surgery.

"I had surgery four weeks before the Combine," Pulkkinen said. "The shoulder is going to be good. I have to rehab it this summer and it's going to be good when the next season starts. I'm OK."

"I played with the Jokerit men's team about 10 games in the preseason. Then when the regular season started, we played bad. We were losing lots of games and then I broke my wrist. I had surgery and they put a pin in my wrist. It's going to stay in and the wrist is now good." -- Teemu Pulkkinen

Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting, is very impressed with Pulkkinen and said the shoulder problem was mild and that he didn't put himself in danger playing with it in the U-18s.

"The doctor told him that he can play, and he also told him that if he had been an older player, he would not operate on him at all," Stubb said. "Now they did operate on his shoulder and you can see that it won't be a problem next season or the season after that. It was a minor operation."

Pulkkinen has four options for the 2010-11 season. He could get picked by an NHL team and make the squad out of training camp; he could go to the WHL's Kelowna Rockets, who made him a first-round pick in the 2009 CHL Import Draft; he could play for Dynamo Minsk, who made him a first-round pick in the 2009 KHL Junior Draft; or he could return to Jokerit, where long-time St. Louis Blues Scouting Director Jarmo Kekalainen has just taken over as general manager.

"I met him here at the Combine and we talked for about an hour," Pulkkinen said. "He said that he wants me to stay in Jokerit and play for a good team there. I haven't been to Kelowna but I've heard that it's a nice city with nice people and a brand-new hockey rink."

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