After signing a three-year entry-level deal with the Detroit Red Wings last Thursday, Dylan Larkin scored back-to-back goals with the Grand Rapids Griffins in just his second professional game.
The Big 10 Conference Freshman of the Year followed up his first and only season at the University of Michigan with a bronze medal with Team USA at the World Championships.
Larkin was ranked 16th on ESPN Insider’s list of the Top 50 NHL Prospects, where Anthony Mantha (#28), Joe Hicketts (#31) and Axel Holmstrom (#34) were three other listed Red Wings.
Poking at Pulkkinen
With only nine AHL players ahead of him on the scoring list, Teemu Pulkkinen still lead the league in goals with 34 in just 46 games. The nine players ahead of him averaged 70 games each, with 63 played as the fewest of the nine.
Yet, Pulkkinen was not present on ESPN’s Top 50 list. It is possible that Pulkkinen is no longer labeled as a prospect having played 31 games for the Red Wings this year.
I’ll never forget this game, though.
It is believed that Red Wings GM Ken Holland has told teams league-wide that Mantha and Larkin are untouchable. It seems even Holland enjoys leaving the name Teemu Pulkkinen off of lists as well.
Even as Teemu Pulkkinen is leading the Calder Cup Playoffs with 14 goals and tied for the lead with 18 points in 12 games, he still may not be in Detroit’s plans.
With Pulkkinen becoming a restricted free agent at the end of the AHL playoffs, he will either be a Red Wing next season or be traded. The Red Wings’ won’t make the same mistake as they did with Andrej Nestrasil this past year, when he was picked up by Carolina on waivers.
The Depth “Problem”
With just eight points (5G, 3A) in his 31 games with Detroit, he hasn’t provided the Wings with enough upside to be a lock on the 2015-16 roster. Mainly due to the fact of the competition he faces within the organization and the depth chart.
Red Wings Forward Depth Chart
Henrik Zetterberg – Pavel Datsyuk – Tomas Tatar
Gustav Nyquist – Riley Sheahan – (Johan Franzen)
Tomas Jurco – Darren Helm – Justin Abdelkader
Drew Miller – Luke Glendening – Stephen Weiss
Teemu Pulkkinen – Joakim Andersson – Landon Ferraro
With Franzen’s status currently up in the air, this depth chart is pending full health of each named player.
While Nyquist, Jurco, Andersson, Ferraro and Pulkkinen are all restricted free agents, it should be expected that each of them will be extended qualifying offers from the Red Wings. A qualifying offer to Pulkkinen and Ferraro would force them to become ineligible to be freely sent down without waivers.
The bottom-line is Teemu Pulkkinen won’t make the team unless it’s in a top-six scoring role. He doesn’t provide enough size, physicality or grit to kill penalties or play the grinding role of a bottom-six forward.
So What Happens Then?
Teemu Pulkkinen gets traded.
With Mantha and Larkin labeled as untouchable, nearly every other team in the NHL would still have some interest in Teemu Pulkkinen who led the AHL in goals and was 10th for points in such little time played compared to the league.
I don’t like to speculate what team’s can get in return for players because trades come in all shapes and sizes with many different thoughts during the process. With that said, the Wings should look to move Pulkkinen for strong defensive depth or perhaps sweeten the deal with another prospect or draft pick(s) for a number two or three d-man.
To me, there are three things that could keep Pulkkinen around, his knack for scoring goals, the fact that he is a right-handed shooter and the possibility of Franzen not being ready to go by the start of the season. If Franzen isn’t ready and the Wings still have Pulkkinen, he could potentially fill Franzen’s top-six spot.
The x-factor is Dylan Larkin. With all due respect to Mantha, Larkin could make
the team above both Mantha and Pulkkinen due to all he has become within the last year at just 18-years-old.
With an underachieving season, not so much a “very, very, very disappointing” season, Mantha has taken a small step back where Larkin has pushed forward.