DETROIT – Teemu Pulkkinen made his season debut on Jan. 10, and brought plenty of hype with him as the American Hockey League’s leading scorer.
A lethal shot that drew comparisons to former Red Wings sniper Brett Hull, fans didn’t have to wait long before Pulkkinen tallied his first-career goal with a blistering slap shot in his sixth game of the season against the Minnesota Wild.
“It was just the first goal but for sure, whatever level you play, you wanna score,” Pulkkinen said. “So obviously this is the highest level you can play hockey so it’s for sure fun to score and play here. It was really nice.”
Pulkkinen’s strike opened the scoring in a game that the Wings would win 5-4 in a shootout. A highly-touted goal scorer during his time with the Grand Rapids Griffins, Pulkkinen credited Stephen Weiss for setting him up with a tremendous pass.
“It’s a good feeling, you want to score at every level you play,” Pulkkinen said. “I scored in the AHL and now I get my chance here. I got a great pass from Weisser and I just shoot it. That’s my game, I always try to throw the pucks to the net and shoot it. When I saw that it was going in, for sure I was happy and we won the game, so that was perfect.”
The rookie forward led the AHL in scoring with 34 goals and 61 points in 46 games before being recalled by the Wings. With a knack for scoring, it was only a matter of time before Pulkkinen unleashed his dangerous right-handed slap shot at the NHL level.
When Weiss came streaking up the right side of the ice, he left a drop-pass for a trailing Pulkkinen who had space to crank a slap shot past Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk’s right leg pad. Aware of the 23-year-old’s milestone, Weiss immediately jumped in the net to retrieve the puck for an elated Pulkkinen.
“It’s cool. Those are goals that you remember for your whole lifetime,” Weiss said. “So to be a part of somebody’s first goal is pretty cool. I remember taking a picture with Pulky after the game, so I’m sure that’s something he’ll have for his whole life. It’s pretty neat.”
Weiss also assisted on another rookie’s first-career goal two months prior when defenseman Xavier Ouellet recorded his first tally in November. Weiss said both Ouellet and Pulkkinen will go on to score many more at the NHL level but there’s nothing quite like the first one.
“For sure, my first goal is still clear in my mind,” Weiss said. “It was my first game, on my 19th birthday and just got called up the day before from juniors. It was actually a big goal in the hockey game, we ended up winning and I think it might’ve been the winner. So it was pretty special day altogether … that’s probably the clearest one out of all of them.”
As for the historic puck, Pulkkinen didn’t have it in his locker stall and wasn’t sure of its whereabouts.
“I don’t have it right now, I think it’s somewhere (at the arena) still but I’ll ask after the season,” Pulkkinen said. “Obviously, it’s nice to keep the puck but for me, it really doesn’t matter. It’s the first goal puck but I wanna score more and have more goals.”
A fourth-round draft pick of the Wings in 2010, Pulkkinen was named to the AHL all-rookie team in 2013-14 after scoring 31 goals and 59 points in 71 games. This season, he surpassed those numbers in just 46 games before being recalled by the Wings. Despite missing 23 games, Pulkkinen still led the AHL in scoring and finished second on the Griffins in points behind Andy Miele.
In 31 games with the Wings, the Vantaa, Finland, native totaled five goals and eight points with a plus-5 rating. As one of three right-handed shots on the team, Pulkkinen spent significant time on the power play while skating among the top nine forwards. A proven goal scorer with the Griffins, Pulkkinen still has some work to do before emulating those numbers at the next level. With a gifted shot and a propensity for putting the puck in the net, the young forward could develop into a dangerous scorer for the Wings in the coming seasons.