The 2013 NHL Draft will be looked back upon and debated for decades to come. The 2021 Hart Trophy finalist Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche) went first overall, followed by Aleksander Barkov (Florida) and Jonathan Drouin (Tampa Bay). Thirteen players selected in the first fourteen spots have gone on to play at least 300 games, with a handful already past the 500-game mark. Some may say that lost in the shuffle of that elite-level talent was the New York Islanders’ first pick, 15th overall, Ryan Pulock.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound defenceman has only 290 games on his NHL resume, which is the second-lowest total of players selected before him. Only Samuel Morin (13th overall Philadelphia) has seen fewer games (29) than Pulock. Before the Islanders made their first pick, five defencemen were selected – those names included Seth Jones (Nashville), Darnell Nurse (Edmonton), Rasmus Ristolainen (Buffalo), Morin, and Josh Morrissey (Winnipeg).
When you look up the statistics of the highest-scoring team in the 2021 playoffs, most wouldn’t expect to see the Islanders (45 goals) leading the pack (from ‘CRACKS OF DON: Islanders, Pulock not getting the love they deserve,’ The Sault Star, 06/14/2021). But, as the first team to reach nine wins, thanks to a 2-1 victory in Game 1 in their semifinal matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pulock became the team leader in game-winning goals with three. So far, Pulock has four goals (tied for fourth on the team with Matt Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier) in the postseason, with 75% of them being game-winners. With timely goals, he’s already surpassed his postseason career total in goals these playoffs.
Pulock suited up in all 56 games this past season, with insufficient numbers for a guy making $6.5 million a year as a top-pairing defenceman. The native of Dauphin, Manitoba, scored just 2 goals to go with 15 helpers for 17 points and was a plus-15. However, when the regular season transitioned to the playoffs, Pulock stepped up his game to make amends for his poor playing during the regular season.
His first game-winner came in Game 4 of the opening-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. His tally at 14:51 of the second period padded the Islanders lead to 2-0 en route to a 4-1 win. His heroics continued in Game 6 of the Pittsburgh series when he scored midway through the second period to break a 3-3 tie before teammate Brock Nelson sealed the win (5-3) a few minutes later. After scoring an empty-net goal in the series finale against the Boston Bruins in the second round, Pulock scored early in the third period of Game 1 against Tampa Bay to give the Islanders a 2-0 lead, as well as some breathing room. The Lightning scored a late power-play goal to cut the lead in half, but Pulock’s early tally gave the team from Long Island enough confidence to hang on and close out the win.
Earning His Minutes
Since the start of the 2018-19 season, Pulock hasn’t missed a single game, suiting up for 176 straight contests within this time frame. His career-high goal total during the regular season is 10, which he achieved twice in 2017-18 and 2019-20. During the 2018-19 season, he suited up for all 82 contests, and he notched a career-high with 37 points and a +21 rating.
As one of the Islanders’ top-pairing defenceman, you will notice that his career ice time average is around 21:03 a game, yet he only has 63 career penalty minutes. Pulock has 491 block shots, 447 hits, and 663 shots on his resume, highlighting his ability to play both ends of the ice while keeping his game clean.
Before last season’s run to the Eastern Conference Final, Pulock had only 14 playoff games to his credit. He scored a total of four points in two years and had a minus-8 rating. Then in 2019-20, the 25-year-old stepped up, playing in 22 games, chipping in 10 points thanks to 2 goals and 8 assists. Those numbers brought his career playoff totals to 3 goals and 11 assists for 14 points. So far in the 2020-21 playoffs, Pulock has six points (two goals and four assists) to go with a plus-4 rating. He also has blocked 27 shots and belted 51 hits with just one penalty.
Star players are supposed to step up in pressure situations and be the heroes. The Islanders have a long list of those players, but that’s not their style. You hear it in the press and on social media; this season’s team is different. It’s not about individual players; it’s about the team. Pulock is paid as a top defenceman and sees minutes like one. Yet, he is just another member who is doing his job to contribute wherever he can. If that job happens to be chipping in timely goals that win playoff hockey games, that is more than anyone could ask for from a guy who isn’t known for his goal-scoring abilities in the playoffs.
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Ryan Gagne is back for his second tour of duty with The Hockey Writers. In 2021 he wrote about the New York Islanders and now will embrace the challenge of covering the Calgary Flames. The best part of this new assignment is Ryan currently lives in Edmonton and will get to see both sides of the Battle of Alberta up close and personal. None of this will make much sense since he was born and raised in New England and the Boston Bruins are his still team.