Though this season’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers aren’t much to look at, the trio of young defensive prospects that are growing under the guidance of Brent Thompson have been impressive all season. Last night’s loss to Lehigh Valley was just another to add to the list for the 29th-place Tigers, but was more than anything a great insight into some of the future defensemen coming through the pipeline.
Ryan Pulock is awesome. I was a big fan of the pick in 2013 as Ryan was coming off a decent season with the Brandon Wheat Kings, but it seemed like not showing progression offensively in his Sophomore WHL season may have hurt his draft stock at the time. Instead, Pulock’s defensive game improved drastically, and when he put the two together in his post-draft season there were undoubtedly teams who picked before the Islanders kicking themselves for not grabbing Pulock.
In his first full season at Bridgeport, Pulock’s been shifted around a bit but last night was paired with Aaron Ness. Ness of course had a stint with the Islanders and had some pretty major defensive deficiencies despite obvious talent. Pulock anchored the pairing, being the smart defensive guy who was somewhat passive in the neutral zone and kept things calm in the defensive zone. He played a physical game, used his stick to break up plays, and showed off how well he thinks the game. While he didn’t register a point in the game, Pulock’s one-timer was proven dangerous multiple times and set up a few golden opportunities that weren’t converted.
Pulock seems like the only player on Bridgeport who could step onto an NHL roster today and succeed. He thinks the game at an extremely high level for a 20-year-old in his first season of professional hockey, and is positively influential every time he steps on the ice. Right now, Pulock is ahead of the pack.
Reinhart was touted as a big, strong defenseman who could dominate physically while showing a ton of offensive upside when he was drafted 4th overall in 2012. His offensive production dipped after being drafted, but he spent the next two seasons becoming the best shutdown defenseman in the WHL and leading his Edmonton Oil Kings squad to the 2014 Memorial Cup before making the jump to pro hockey, so it was understandable that Islanders fans were a bit disappointed with his handful of NHL performances this season.
Just looking at Griffin’s numbers, you’d think he’s having a horrible season at Bridgeport. He’s a -17 with 19 points in 46 games and 52 PIMs, and at times hasn’t looked great doing it. There have definitely been some growing pains this season with the Vancouver native, but he just absolutely oozes potential that’s hard to ignore in a kid who just recently turned 21. Reinhart excels in the dirty areas, battling in the corners and along the boards, in front of the net, playing physically, etc. He’s a workhorse who uses his size and strength to his advantage. And his shot…what a shot it is.
Right now, Reinhart’s biggest issue seems to be confidence in his decision making. There were times when he’d go to step up on a player, hesitate, and then get caught out of position. As Saturday night’s game went on, he corrected those mistakes, but nerves and a lack of confidence are tough to get over. This has been an issue for him all season, but seemed big in the first period of this particular game. When he puts it all together, Reinhart and Pulock could very well be a second pairing on what would then be one of the top defensive groups in the NHL.
Drafted 65th overall in 2012, Adam Pelech played just 44 games in his draft year due to a rough wrist injury which was re-aggravated the next season. Pelech was seen as a solid two-way defenseman who really didn’t stand out in any particular area but played a solid overall game for the Erie Otters. His draft year also happened to be right before the Connor McDavid era began in Erie, when the team was beyond bad–so compound a wrist injury with a bad team and it’s a surprise Pelech was able to produce at all in 2011-12. Last season, Adam put it all together with 54 points in 60 games in a role that forced him to eat a ton of minutes.
Though his numbers don’t reflect it (just 7 points this season), Pelech’s offensive game is what has truly blossomed this season in Bridgeport. His numbers with Erie look great, but are also easy to explain with the stacked Otters groups he played with, particularly the boy wonder who looks like he’ll be the best player in the NHL in a few years. With the Sound Tigers, Pelech’s had the exact opposite situation: bottom pair minutes with stay-at-home defenseman Scott Mayfield, with mostly bottom-six forwards on the ice for a very bad team. It’s a recipe for disaster for his stat line, but the way he handles the puck and creates scoring chances with his vision is impressive. Against Lehigh Valley on Saturday, Pelech assisted on the first Bridgeport goal, driving the net after a Mayfield slapper and having the awareness to toss the rebound across the slot for Quine to easily tap in.
Pelech looks to be a bit less physically mature than the other blueliners on Bridgeport, and is definitely not quite strong enough to handle the rigors of an NHL season at this point. Realistically, it’s hard to see him cracking the Islanders roster anytime soon unless a Hickey or de Haan are moved, but Pelech may turn into some pretty nice trade bait down the line.