Schwartz: Ryan Pulock Has Become The Total Package On the Islanders Blueline

Ryan Pulock was up near the blueline at the left point as the Islanders were on the power during overtime Thursday night against the Vegas Golden Knights at Nassau Coliseum.  After the face-off, Pulock drifted just outside the Vegas zone as the puck went into the left corner to the right of Golden Knights goalie Malcolm Subban.  Pulock then raced to the high slot where he took a pass from Anders Lee, moved down the slot and fired a wrist shot past Subban to give the Islanders a 3-2 victory.

Pulock’s fourth goal of the season was his second game winner and the fifth of his career.

“The guys did a good job in the corner getting the puck to the middle,” said Pulock after practice Friday.  “When you’re in that position, you try to do what you can to finish it.”

For Pulock, a first-round pick by the Islanders (15th overall) in 2013, it was the latest example of just how far he has come over the last few years and how he has cemented his place on the Islanders blueline.  This season, he has 4 goals and 10 assists for 14 points over 27 games.  In 193 career games, Pulock is a plus 19 with 25 goals and 62 assists for 87 points.

He’s happy with his game so far this season.

“I think it’s been good,” said Pulock, a native of Dauphin, Manitoba in Canada.  “There’s been some ups and downs at times but that’s going to come within a season.  I’m going to continue to try and play hard and chip in offensively.” 

While Pulock has been enjoying success over his first three full NHL seasons, getting to this point wasn’t easy.  He made his NHL debut on February 28th, 2016 and totaled two goals and two assists in 15 games the rest of that season and would play in six playoff contests.  The following season, Pulock played in just one game before suffering a lower body injury that caused him to miss 16 games.  He went back to Bridgeport in the AHL where he racked up 15 goals and 31 assists for 46 points but never got the call back up the Islanders.

Getting that opportunity to be a regular defenseman in the NHL was something that Pulock had to be patient with. 

“My first few years, I was up and down playing here and there,” said Pulock.  “But over the last three years, I’ve established myself and I’m comfortable with my game and what I can bring at this level.”

(New York Islanders)

Having gone through the waiting game, Pulock can certainly relate to what Noah Dobson is going through right now.  One of the Islanders first-round picks in 2018, Dobson has only played in 7 games this season.  He is not eligible to be sent to Bridgeport so he either has to stay with the Islanders or go back to juniors.   Pulock can understand how tough and frustrating that can be at times as a young player because he went through it in his own way.

“You want to play,” said Pulock.  “Obviously when you’re here you want to be out there but I think you have to make the most of it.  I was in that position and tried to stay positive and tried to learn as much as I could and take it all in and just enjoy the experience.  I think that really helped me down the road to where I am now.” 

Where Pulock is now is a mainstay with the Islanders.  He played in 68 games in 2017-18, his first full season in the NHL, and tallied 10 goals and 22 assists for 32 points.  Then last season, after Barry Trotz took over as Islanders Head Coach, Pulock played in all 82 games and totaled 9 goals to go along with 28 assists for 37 points.  But the stat that jumps out is that he was a plus 21 compared to plus 5 the year before.

Pulock has established himself not only as a gifted offensive player with a powerful right-handed shot, but also as a physical presence on the defensive end of the ice. 

“He’s grown just like everybody else,” said Trotz.  “He has a lot more detail and more confidence.  He’s a big man.  He’s a strong man and doesn’t sometimes realize how strong he is.  When he’s playing a firm game down low in the defensive zone and closing on people quickly, usually he strips them of the puck.  He’s got the ability to join the play and obviously he has a big shot.”

Pulock, as well as the entire team, has benefited from the arrival of Trotz before last season.  The Islanders went from giving up the most goals in the league in 2017-18 to giving up the fewest goals last season.  Pulock was a big part of the Islanders’ success last year including a 103-point regular season and a first-round sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs.

“He’s helped the whole team with our defensive game,” said Pulock of the reigning Jack Adams Award winner as NHL coach of the year.  “As a d-man, when you can connect that between the forwards it makes our jobs easier as well.  It’s benefited us tremendously and obviously it’s a fun time to be here with the Islanders.”

And this season has been fun as well. 

With Thursday night’s win, the Islanders are 19-6-2 for 40 points, the fourth best total in the NHL.   They now embark on a three-game road trip that will take them to Dallas on Saturday, Tampa Bay on Monday and Florida next Thursday. 

Pulock and the Islanders have been all smiles this season.

“Obviously when you’re winning it’s fun,” said Pulock.  “To have a group of guys like this…most of us have been together the last few years so everyone gets along so well.  When you’re winning hockey games, that’s why you play the game.”

Ryan Pulock had to endure some waiting, an injury, and more waiting before he became a regular defenseman in the NHL.  The waiting was worth it as he has become a powerful offensive force and a reliable physical player on the defensive end.  It wouldn’t be a surprise if we start to hear talk about a Norris Trophy for Pulock in the near future.

About the Author

Peter Schwartz

Peter Schwartz is a contributor covering the Islanders for NY Sports Day while also writing about general sports in the New York/New Jersey area. In addition to his column, Peter also hosts his “Schwartz On Sports” podcast as he interviews players, coaches, and other sports personalities. He is also currently a sports anchor for WFAN Radio, CBS Sports Radio, and WCBS 880 radio while also serving as the public address announcer for the New York Cosmos soccer club.

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