by Kinsey Janke || for NHL.com
Just three months past his 20th birthday, Ryan Pulock is the youngest member of an already youthful Bridgeport Sound Tigers defensive corps.
Drafted No. 15 overall 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 head 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 posted 210 points in 261 regular-season games, as well as 15 points in 24 playoff contests. He finished among the Wheat Kings’ top 10 scorers all four years, concluding his final season in Brandon 19 points ahead of the team’s next-best defenseman.
Now in his rookie professional campaign, 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 made his debut with the Sound Tigers in three games last April after finishing his junior career. “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.”
Bridgeport is currently tied for ninth in the AHL’s jam-packed Eastern Conference, just one point out of a playoff spot. They have points in four of their last six, and Pulock’s immediate impact on the roster has been felt: He is tied for the team lead in goals (12), and ranks 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 the rookie has shown with the extra man. Pulock’s 10 power-play goals are tops in the entire AHL, helping 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 both 2011-12 and 2013-14; Pulock, whose name is scattered among the statistical leaderboards for both 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 also includes rookies Griffin Reinhart, Jesse Graham, and Adam Pelech, Pulock has been paired with Bridgeport captain Aaron Ness for the majority of the 2014-15 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 just barely made a dent in his professional hockey career, but he too knows what it will take to challenge and ultimately win a roster spot with the Islanders. He is both 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 also to further mold himself into a future NHL contender.
“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 in-game assertiveness with and without the puck as well as playing at a faster pace as two of the things he and his staff are working with Pulock on.
“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 fitting 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.”