If you go outside our little bubble of Long Island, not many hockey fans would know Ryan Pulock if you uttered his name. Instead, they might throw out the names like Viktor Hedman, Cale Makar, Roman Josi, Miro Heiskanen.
You know the one trait all those names have in common? They’re elite. Those guys are at the top of their game and are the best of the best in their profession. But what about Pulock, the Isles’ clear-cut number-one defenseman? Has he reached that echelon yet?
Looking at his performance to this point of the season, that answer is now a resounding yes. And it’s time for the rest of the league to acknowledge it.
Pulock is in the midst of one of the best seasons of his career. Even with the goose egg he has in the goal department, Pulock’s overall game has reached new heights playing alongside fellow shutdown defender Adam Pelech.
As The Fourthperiod.com’s Anthony Di Marco pointed out earlier this week, the Manitoba native is averaging over 22:26 of ice time a game (the most since he came into the NHL in 2016-17) and has 12 assists. From the analytic side of things, his On Ice xG Differential (5v5) at 9.64 and On Ice xGoals For (5v5) at 26.1 are near the top of the league for d-men. Those numbers shouldn’t come as a surprise because of how stout defensively the Islanders are as a team, but they are still ultra-impressive.
Why so? Because for all the talk about his rocket shot — and that’s been his MO from the time he was drafted — Pulock doesn’t get enough credit for how solid of a defender he’s transformed into. The matchups he’s been tasked with this year — due to the newly formatted divisions — as opposed to the past has only spotlighted how much his game has evolved. Barry Trotz has seen it too.
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) March 23, 2021
“Especially in our division, there are some tough matchups, you go up and down the list, it’s pretty daunting,” the Isles’ head coach acknowledged last month.. “(Pelech and Pulock) have come a long way. When I first tried to put them in that position a couple of years ago, they weren’t just quite ready for it, either mentally or they didn’t trust themselves. Now, I think they’ve just grown into that role and gotten very comfortable playing against top lines and they trust their abilities. Their confidence should be really good.”
At 26, Pulock hasn’t even entered the prime of his career. His latest contract too, the two-year, $10M deal he signed in the offseason, is starting to look more and more like a bargain. Heck there might even be another level to his game we haven’t even seen yet. All that being said, there’s no debate needed anymore that Pulock isn’t an elite defenseman in the NHL.
Pulock won’t find himself in the Norris Trophy conversation this year, but with the way he’s performed the last few years and this season, it’s not unrealistic to think he might find himself there in the near future.
Pulock’s rise to elite status has been a slow burn. But it’s definitely felt organic in the sense of the expectations the franchise had for him when they selected him 15th overall in the 2013 draft.
We’ve seen it from the beginning around these parts. Now it’s time for the rest of the NHL to do the same.
Follow me on Twitter at @RTaub_