Born: January 2, 1992
Birthplace: Vantaa, FIN
Contract Status: Restricted Free Agent
This was supposed to be a "show me" year for Teemu Pulkkinen, as he was given a one-year contract extension last summer to see if he could earn a permanent place on the roster. We've already discussed the merits of bringing the Holy Slapper back, but now it's time to slap a grade on the Finn's performance for the past season.
We knew coming into the year that Pulkkinen's strength was definitely that booming shot of his, the one that helped him lead the AHL in scoring the previous season. The expectations around here were that he would struggle with timing and less space in the NHL, but the hope was he would figure it out enough to contribute significantly to a team with a history of lacking for goals.
It was also assumed that Pulkkinen was going to receive generally sheltered minutes because of his raw defensive play. This translated to expecting to see the Finn on the third line for most of the season, with some tryouts on the second and maybe even the first lines. He was not a player that was going to be leaned on heavily over 82 games, but instead would be comfortably placed in a secondary-scoring role.
Player Performance vs Expectations
It was a difficult year for Pulkkinen, who seemed to be starting off the season on a good pace for someone expected to play in the middle six. He scored 6 goals and added 5 assists in his first 23 full games before his shoulder injury, which in an 82 game season would have projected to 21 goals and 18 assists for an impressive sophomore season. Had Pulkkinen reached these numbers, he would have been tied for second in goals with Tomas Tatar and seventh on the team in points.
Alas, Graham's prediction that Pulkkinen wouldn't reach his 20-goal potential came true, as we were without the scoring winger for a total of 20 games due to injury and another 26 when he was a healthy scratch. Of the 36 games he did play in (35 without the Arizona game in which he was injured early), he did most of his scoring in the first two-thirds, only adding an assist in the final 12 games he got into post-injury.
Unfortunately, Pulkkinen got what we should probably start calling the "Jurco Treatment," which is when a player has a whole bunch of expectations heaped upon them only to see their minutes slashed and given less-than-ideal teammates for providing offense. As I illustrated in my Pro/No on Pulkkinen, his TOI was dropped by almost three whole minutes in his games post-injury than pre-injury. He spent the last 13 games of the regular season in the press box, as well as a second consecutive post-season.
I'll let these graphs do the talking on his usage and teammates (from hockeyviz.com)
It's more striking when you see it in graph form: where Pulkkinen got stretches of play with Dylan Larkin and Tatar or Pavel Datsyuk and Brad Richards early in the year, he saw his ice time decrease later on, as well as an increased percentage of his time spent with players like Luke Glendening before he was scratched. It may be encouraging to see more time with Andreas Athanasiou or Gustav Nyquist at the end of the season, but it should be remembered that AA especially got shafted in the usage department, and both he and Pulkkinen got minimal minutes down the stretch.
So was Pulkkinen able to live up to the expectations of a fanbase absolutely drooling over the offensive potential he showed in his rookie season? No, for reasons not entirely under his control. Injuries cut into his season, and then he fell victim to strange lineup decisions by the coaching staff. He wasn't put into a position to succeed after his injury; he didn't get the middle-six minutes we expected nor the teammates that would help him to use his greatest strength. Instead, he saw most of the games he did play in from the bench, with players not inclined to offensive production (Glendening) or ones also not given the chance to contribute to their full potential (Athanasiou).
Final Grade: C+
It's quite tempting to give Pulkkinen a grade of "Incomplete." After all, he played for less than half of a full season. However, the fact that he spent a lot of time as a healthy scratch tips my hand in favor of giving him an actual grade.
His promise early on helped his evaluation, but he ended up in a rotation in and out of the lineup with fellow goat Tomas Jurco, which contributed to both players having disappointing seasons as neither was able to do much when their minutes were limited. Pulkkinen ended up the scratch more often, which is why he only gets a slightly better grade than Jurco.