MONTREAL – Despite missing more than a third of the minor-league season, Red Wings prospect Teemu Pulkkinen was named to the American Hockey League’s All-Star First Team on Thursday.
The 23-year-old sniper wasn’t sure when he first arrived in Michigan how his game would translate from the large ice sheets in Europe to the much smaller rinks in North America. But based on what he’s done over the last two seasons it’s easy to assume that he’s assimilating quite nicely.
“I’ve always been the same kind of player who likes to shoot and score goals,” said Pulkkinen, who has five goals and eight points in 29 games with the Wings. “But a couple first years it’s different hockey, so I think every year I’ve taken another step and this year I took a good step. But I’m hoping to take another step next year.”
Though he hasn’t played regularly for Grand Rapids since early January, Pulkkinen, who has been called up to the Wings three separate times, leads all AHL scorers with 34 goals. His 61 points in 46 games is second in Griffins’ scoring behind only Michigan native Andy Miele, who has 67 points in 66 games.
Of the five skaters named to the AHL’s first team, only Miele has more than Pulkkinen.
“I’m surprised he’s still among them and he’s 25 games back that’s for sure,” Grand Rapids forward Landon Ferraro said. “Obviously it’s great that he’s here and he’s doing his thing but I would have loved to have seen what a full year at his pace would have gotten him to.”
Pulkkinen took the AHL honor in stride, knowing that his team goals and aspirations are much higher.
“It’s a good prize for what I did in the first half of the season when I played there,” said Pulkkinen of the AHL selection. “It’s great for me. It was great there. I liked playing there so much. A lot of fun with the boys, and obviously I played with some great players and I got a lot of ice time, and that was part of the success.”
Since Jan. 10, when he made his season debut with the Wings, Pulkkinen has spent most of his time on the NHL roster through three different call ups. While the difference between the AHL and the NHL has taken an adjustment period, Pulkkinen is fitting in with the Wings; bottom six forwards.
“For sure I want to play the same way here as I played in the American League,” he said. “But in the same time I have to make sure that I play great defense, don’t give up anything easy, don’t give up goals. Just push hard, skate hard and that’s my thing. But I want to score goals too.
“We have great examples with guys like (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Pavel) Datsyuk, who play great defense but they also are great offensive contributors too. I want to be like those guys; play great two-ways and then score goals.”
Pulkkinen is the Griffins’ leading scorer over the two full AHL seasons since arriving from his native Finland. Since joining the Griffins at the end of 2012-13, he and the Howitzer of a slap shot that he possesses have produced 65 goals and 121 points in 119 games.
Last season he also established a new all-time rookie record for the Griffins, producing 59 points in 71 games.
The 5-foot-10 Finn has long owned a rocket of a shot, but Ferraro said he’s seen growth in his teammate’s development.
“The biggest part is that he began playing a little better in his own end,” Ferraro said. “With doing that he starting getting more space. Before he’d be sitting up on the far blue line and when he’d get a puck the D-men were right on him. Now he gets it a bit lower and he gets some speed into it, not only that but on regroups he’s getting back closer to the red line instead of sitting at the blue in a stand still. When you give him space and he gets to take three or four strides into a shot it’s got a good chance of going in.”
PLAYOFF SCENARIOS: There are three scenarios in which the Red Wings can clinch a 24th straight playoff berth tonight at Bell Centre.
The simplest is by beating the Montreal Canadiens in any fashion, or Ottawa loses in regulation to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
A third way to nab a seat at the Eastern Conference playoff table is if the Wings get one point tonight, and either the Senators lose in regulation, overtime or a shootout, or Boston loses in regulation.
It’s important for the Wings to win tonight and not have to drag their playoff fate into Saturday’s season finale at Carolina. Also, by winning tonight, the Wings can then afford to give some physical and mental rest to players like Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall.
“I don’t think like that,” coach Mike Babcock said. “What we try to do is get organized like always. We’re going to try to make sure we got good early energy. We’re going to box out well at our net, get to their net hard, be organized on the power play, penalty kill and work hard. When you focus on process good things usually happen.”
FIVE ALIVE: Injuries were a major problem last season for the Wings. However, not everything has been rosy over the last two months of this season either.
Last year, Drew Miller and Kyle Quincey were the only Wings to appear in every regular-season game. But with two games remaining before the start of the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Wings have five players – Miller, Jonathan Ericsson, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Luke Glendening – who will likely go start to finish without missing a game this season.
It’s remarkable consider that only 87 players in the entire league have played every single game so far for their teams. That’s just 2.9 players per team. Washington leads with seven players, followed by Montreal and Chicago with six each.
The Wings’ five would be the most to finish a single campaign without missing a game in 34 seasons. In 1979-80 forwards Dale McCourt, Mike Foligno and Pete Mahovlich, and defensemen Reed Larson and Barry Long played in all 80 games for the Wings, who finished last in the five-team Norris Division.
Right Wing - DET
Goals: 27 | Assists: 27 | Pts: 54
Shots: 190 | +/-: -10
Shooting the puck more seems to be doing the trick for Nyquist.
The 25-year-old Nyquist has five goals on 24 shots in the past nine games. He had just two goals in the previous 21 games.
“I think one part, but now down the stretch it’s more (about) getting on the inside,” Nyquist said. “That’s where the goals are going to be scored, right in front of the net. It’s not going to be cute plays, it’s mostly gonna be dirty goals in front of the net. You have to fight for them, so that’s what you’ve gotta do.”
Over the last nine games, Nyquist is averaging 2.67 shots. That’s up considerably from his 1.83 season average.