With Teemu Pulkkinen getting a little bit of playing time over the last week I figured that this was a great time to write about him. Pulkkinen is going to be a player who struggles in a few parts of the game, but really excels in others.
Pulkkinen stands 5’11″ and weighs 185 pounds. He plays bigger than he is, his size generally isn’t a problem for him as it can be for other players(see Almquist, Adam). Teemu Pulkkinen was the Wings 4th selection(111th overall) in the 2010 draft, the Wings also drafted Sheahan, Jarnkrok, and Mrazek in this draft. This looks to be one of their better hauls even with the trade of Jarnkrok.
Pulkkinen has 51 points(26 goals) in 60 games for the Griffins so far this season. He seemed to adjust pretty well at the beginning of this year as well as at the tail end of last year. Pulkkinen’s game is dependent on his ability to get shots at the net in space. The test for him will be as he gets to the NHL and solidifies a spot on the team in the next year or two, is he going to be able to create the amount of space necessary for himself.
For Pulkkinen to be effective in the NHL he is going to need to diversify his game. Like I have said in previous articles, stats only have value because we expect them to be projectable on some level. Stats only have value if we know exactly what it is that they measure. The goals stat only quantifies the number of times a player is able to get the puck past the goalie. What it does not tell us, is whether or not a better goalie would have stopped them, or whether this player was the player most responsible for the goal. Pulkkinen scores most of his goals in the AHL from the same two spots, the top of each circle. He leads a rush in from the neutral zone, creeps up to the top of the circles and fires a shot through maybe one body. Simply, this is not a way to score in the NHL. The goalies are too good, and the game is too fast. Pulkkinen’s release on his slap shot is slow, he needs to speed up his mechanics and become a quicker player in the offensive zone.
I place his ceiling as a power play specialist, around 25 goals maximum. Pulkkinen is still extremely young, and this is still his first full year playing North American hockey, so he still has adjusting to do. The 26 goals and near point per game pace he is on is nice, but I don’t see the potential that other people see.
We have a little bit of an NHL sample on him right now, so let’s dissect it a little bit. What I have seen from him so far, is a guy who looks really lost on the ice. His only value right now to the Wings is that he can play the point on a power play. When Pulkkinen is on the power play he just doesn’t seem to be thinking the game on a high enough level yet. He is making all his decisions too slowly and he isn’t able to play decisive hockey yet, this is to mean that he needs to trust himself a little bit more and make a few more aggressive plays.
Pulkkinen needs to take better shots. In the game against the Penguins on the 20th he was taking a lot of shots on the power play. Great, that’s why he’s there and the Wings need someone to fire a few at the goalie. However, he was shooting from places that just don’t generate goals. He was shooting on the far side of the face-off dot. It wasn’t a one timer and it wasn’t through traffic. Rebounds aren’t productive from that area as well as a goalie will just direct it to the corner and get back in position.
Pulkkinen is a player whose entire NHL career depends on his ability to adapt his shot to NHL speed. Pulkkinen isn’t a burner and he’s not going to create space with his hands. Pulkkinen has to create space by being smart and being sound positionally. He needs to improve his ice vision and get a quicker first step. By doing this, he will be able to recognize the best shooting lanes, and a quicker first step will allow him to get to those shooting lanes before they close. The speed of the NHL game in comparison to the AHL is something that cannot be overstated.
A misconception about Pulkkinen is that due to his great shot, he is a great finisher. This is something that I don’t agree with. A finisher is simply a player who plays next to a playmaker and then is able to get himself in open ice and shoot the puck into an open net. For this example I am going to use the duo of Crosby and Kunitz. Crosby is a playmaker, but Kunitz is the finisher on the line. Kunitz is not a player who is all that skilled, but he is a guy who is able to find open ice, receive a pass and then shoot an accurate shot into an open net. For Pulkkinen to establish himself as an NHLer he is going to have to learn how to do this. He is going to need to become a finisher.