Every week of the 2018-19 season, our Rob Taub will discuss one player from the Islanders to look out for. Whether it’s past performances, certain matchups, or something about that player that makes worth spotlighting, each article will describe why they are being featured. Also — if one or two players, or the team is coming off a good week — there will be multiple spotlights.
At this point of the season a year ago, the coming out party for Ryan Pulock was just getting started.
Flashback to a few weeks earlier, the Dauphin, MB native had just produced the game of his life — a five-point night in a 7-3 throttling of the Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago. After that game, Pulock — despite how putrid the Isles defense had been to that point — took the ball and ran with it. What resulted was a monster second half and fans salivating that they finally had another number one d-man for the future in the 24-year old. Pulock would end the season with 32 points in 68 games played, second most to Nick Leddy’s 42.
No one could have foreseen Pulock’s huge second half of the season after what he was going through for the first two quarters of the year.
Dating back to training camp, Pulock was one-third of a three-headed monster who were all vying for one open spot on the Isles blue line. The other two were Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech. Pulock was projected to secure the spot after he ran through the competition in the AHL during the 2016-17 season and looked finally ready to be a regular NHL defensemen. Pulock’s showing in camp left him at the back of the pack and him starting the season watching from the press box, all the while the one thing the Islanders struggled with being Pulock’s specialty: The power play.
Finally inserted into the lineup in the seventh game of the year at Madison Square Garden, Pulock immediately made impact scoring the team’s first power play goal of the year in a 4-3 shootout victory. Following that game, everyone believed that Pulock needed to be a mainstay in the lineup. Instead, he continued to flip-flop in and out of the lineup until Calvin de Haan went out for the year in mid-December.
Right after the de Haan setback, Pulock’s game started to progress little by little.
The game in Chicago (mentioned above) was when the d-man’s confidence and determination fully took shape. There was no argument needed that other than Calder winner Mathew Barzal, Pulock was probably the Isles second best player and their best d-man all season. The future finally had arrived for the Islanders defense will Pulock’s spectacular finish to the season. New g.m. Lou Lamoriello was very quick to notice how important Pulock is to what the Islanders are trying to build. He rewarded the rookie with a two-year bridge deal, one that will hopefully lead to a bigger pay day in the next few years.
Heading into this season, now under a new coaching staff manned by Barry Trotz, Pulock was a shoe-in to claim the role as the team’s number one defensemen. Even me, I thought that how the defense performed would be determined on how Pulock would take to the new spotlight being bestowed upon him.
Pulock, himself felt the same way.
“One hundred percent,” he told Newsday back in late September. “I was a high pick. They’re picking me to be that guy. This is my time to take that. I’ve been in the organization for four years now. It’s the time I grab the reins and take it. I feel like I can do that.”
Through one half of the year, it’s not overly wrong to say Pulock’s season has been a disappointment.
But it seems more of a mix of bad luck and still learning just how much it takes to anchor the back end. Pulock scored 10 goals last season because his shot was lethal and the system was free willing. Right now, he only has three — tied for the team lead with four of his fellow d-men — while taking 100 shots on net. Even with the team’s defense sacrificing offense in the new system, those 100 shots lead all Islanders defensemen. Nick Leddy is second behind him by a marginal 34. Where the problem lies with the 6’2 stalwart: he can’t seem to hit the net this year. Both at even strength and on the power play, all those missed shots have added up and could be an underlying factor if Pulock has lost some of that swagger offensively he had from his ending to last season.
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) December 9, 2018
Defensively, Pulock has been fine this season, except for a few mishaps.
Averaging between 21 and 24 minutes a night, Pulock’s found his footing and has garnered more trust from the coaching staff. Another big step in Pulock’s development has been on the penalty kill. According to leftwinglock.com, Pulock is getting a majority of time on the second and third pairings when the Isles are a man down. As the Isles head down the stretch — hopefully holding the spot they claim now, first place in the Metro — it’s crucial that Pulock continue to see progression.
One has to hope that Pulock can repeat his second half barrage a year ago and translate it on the ice once the Isles resume play Friday against the Lightning.
The Islanders could really use a strong end to the season from Pulock so he primed and ready for the postseason. That should mean more time on the first power play unit, more shooting instead of less hesitation/picking spots, and more responsibility without the puck. With the games set going to get tougher and dirtier, Pulock having some playoff experience could also be key as the Isles head toward the finish line.
The word “elite” has been thrown around with Pulock for awhile. Now is the time he for him to emerge to that status.
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