Pulkkinen must score to play - it's as simple as that
If he wants to play, Teemu Pulkkinen has to score. That’s the reality of the situation for the Detroit Red Wings forward.
When Riley Sheahan drew back into the Wings’ lineup Thursday for their 6-3 road loss to the Florida Panthers, Pulkkinen was the odd man out.
He played on the fourth line in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but Pulkkinen isn’t fourth-line material. He’s not a grinder. He doesn’t kill penalties.
“I want that line to have a certain identity and he doesn’t necessarily fit in the identity of that line,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. “So he’s got to beat out guys in the lines above him.”
Pulkkinen needs to perform among Detroit’s top nine forwards to be a valuable Red Wing and thus far in his NHL career, the explosive offense he delivered at the AHL level hasn’t materialized in the big leagues.
“The guys above him have – (Gus) Nyquist, Tats (Tomas Tatar) – all those wingers have scored at a much greater rate in the NHL,” Blashill said.
You can argue that Pulkkinen hasn’t been given enough of an opportunity to display his wares on one of Detroit’s scoring lines and Blashill will agree with you to an extent.
“Part of that’s because of a lack of opportunity with Teemu, which I recognize, and him and I had a good conversation,” Blashill said. “He understands that, too.”
But in today’s NHL where goals are rare, those chances must be earned. Teams can’t afford to carry someone who is a defensive uncertainty if they aren’t producing consistently and consistency has not been Pulkkinen’s long suit at the NHL level.
If Pulkkinen were potting goals on a regular basis, the Wings would make room for him. But he isn’t. Pulkkinen hasn’t scored in the five games he’s played since returning from a shoulder injury and hasn’t scored at all since Nov. 21.
“We can’t have too many of the same type of players in the lineup,” Blashill said.
Pulkkinen’s shot is dynamic and certainly of NHL calibre. But unlike others who can wire it and have enjoyed significant scoring success as NHLers – think Alex Ovechkin or Brett Hull as world-class types in the art of scoring in this fashion – Pulkkinen has yet to display that he is capable of finding room for himself in the attacking zone, or that he owns the quick release necessary to get his shot away in the limited space offered when playing against the world’s top players.
“If he’s not going to be on our power play, which we debated and decided that we were going to put Smitty (Brendan) in that spot (on the point of the second unit against Florida), then we’d like to have that spot filled by a penalty killer, which is Andy (Joakim Andersson),” Blashill explained. “So that’s a lot of process that went into it.”
The reigning AHL goal scoring champion with 34 for the Grand Rapids Griffins last season, history is not on Pulkkinen’s side in terms of hopes that he will be able to transfer his AHL prowess into NHL productivity.
Lots of AHL snipers fired blanks as NHLers. The AHL has been around since 1936 and in that time, just eight of the league’s single-season goal-scoring leaders have gone on to produce 30-goal seasons in the NHL and another eight collected 20-goal campaigns.
Since 1990, Mike Cammalleri (2004-05) is the only AHL goal-scoring champ who has scored 30 times in an NHL season, netting 39 for the Calgary Flames in 2008-09, while 2012-13 AHL goal leader Tyler Johnson has posted successive 20-goal campaigns for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In all those decades, only two AHL goal-scoring leaders have gone on to lead the NHL in goals – Bryan Hextall Sr. in the 1940s and Charlie Simmer in 1979-80.
Simmer, the 1977-78 AHL goal leader, is the poster boy for what the Wings would love to see from Pulkkinen, posting back-to-back 50-goal seasons for the Los Angeles Kings in 1979-80 and 1980-81.
No one is counting on Pulkkinen to be a 50-goal man, but if he can’t be a regular contributor, then he can’t be an NHL regular. It’s as simple as that.
The Wings recalled defenseman Jakub Kindl from AHL Grand Rapids to offer insurance on the back end until Niklas Kronwall is able to return from knee surgery.
He’s simply an insurance policy in case someone on the defense is injured.
“Yeah, we’ll have Kindl with us here for the foreseeable future as our seventh D,” Blashill said.
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