Red Wings Pro/No Series: Teemu Pulkkinen has Too Much Firepower to Let Walk
The Holy Slapper found success on international ice and in the American Hockey League, but hasn't had the same scoring touch in the NHL. Is it a case of personnel misuse, or should the Red Wings move on from the Finnish forward?
There are Youtube videos dedicated to the slapshot of Teemu Pulkkinen, ones that Red Wings fans may have salivated over when he was first drafted by Detroit in the fourth round of the 2010 Draft. His skills had him originally expected to go in the first round, before a pair of surgeries (wrist and shoulder, the latter only a month before the Draft Combine) likely made teams wary of selecting the diminutive forward with the lethal shot. Pulkkinen fell to the Wings at 111th overall, later considered a steal of a pick.
#56 / LW / Detroit Red Wings
Jan 02, 1992
This consideration was given more weight in his following season with Jokerit, when he broke Teemu Selänne's rookie record with 36 assists and recorded nearly a point-per-game pace (18-36--54 in 55 games). Pulkkinen spent two more seasons in his home country before joining the Grand Rapids Griffins at the end of the 2012-13 season, helping the team to their first ever Calder Cup victory.
The next season, Pulkkinen scored 31 goals for the Griffins in their quest for a title defense. He was named to the AHL's All-Rookie Team. He also made his NHL debut, playing three games for a decimated Red Wings team.
In 2014-15, Pulkkinen spent 31 games in Detroit, scoring his first NHL goal in typical Pulkky fashion: on a monster slapshot. He added four more goals and three assists for the Red Wings. The rest of the season that he wasn't in the NHL, Pulkkinen was absolutely lighting up the AHL. He scored 34 goals in only 46 games, the first time a Griffin scored 30 goals in back-to-back seasons. He was second on the team in points with 61, received an AHL First All-Star Team nomination, was given the Willie Marshall Award as the league's leading goal-scorer, and was selected by his peers as the inaugural recipient of the AHL's Top Prospect Award. He also scored 14 goals in 16 playoff games for the Griffins that spring.
In his first full season with the Red Wings, Pulkkinen was expected to work on adjusting to the difference in time and space available to him between the AHL and NHL. He scored six goals and five assists in 24 games before a dislocated shoulder sidelined him for the next 18. He only got into 12 more games over the rest of the season, adding another assist to his point totals. He was benched for the final 13 games of the year, as well as the five playoff games. In total, he played in only five more games than the year before for the Red Wings, but managed to increase his offensive output by 50%.
You might be wondering where the rows are for Pulkkinen's post-season statistics. I was initially confused when I looked up his numbers, and then I took a closer look. We know he was scratched for this year's playoffs by his former AHL coach, even when the Red Wings were struggling to score more than two goals in a game. But the same thing was done last year under Mike Babcock, even though Pulkkinen played in 25 of the last 27 games in the regular season. He was sent back to Grand Rapids after Game 4, and to this day has never suited up for the Wings in the playoffs.
Pulkkinen is coming off a one-year, $735,000 contract. Last summer, Wings fans hoped for him to make significant strides to earn a larger deal in this "show me" year. Commenter operatorZ had an eerily-accurate premonition...
So Pulkkinen's shoulder injury aside, this seems like a pretty accurate summary of his season, yeah? We lamented Pulkkinen's misuse after his return, until he wasn't being used at all. Pulkkinen also seemed to become a target of fan frustration, quickly being labeled as a defensive liability and a one-dimensional player who isn't that good at that one dimension on NHL ice. Keep in mind: this happened only one year after a lot of Wings fans were clamoring for Pulkkinen to get more time up with Detroit because they wanted to see him blast away at every opportunity.
J.J.'s prediction may end up being accurate as well. While Pulkkinen does earn arbitration rights this summer, he didn't play enough this season (or well enough when he was in the lineup) to earn too much of a contract raise.
I'll make my position on the Incredible Pulk clear: I think he should get another chance with the Wings. Teemu Pulkkinen is a young player who in the end hasn't even played 100 games in the NHL. That seems far too early to write off a player with high offensive potential like his. He was misused on the power play later in the year (in the slot instead of in the Ovechkin/Stamkos sweet spot) and saw his TOI drastically slashed whenever he cracked the lineup (about 12:51 of time per game down to 9:52). I thought his abilities were dramatized to the point of satire; he still has a great wrist shot and above-average passing skills in addition to his desire to fire pucks through opposing netminders.
Give him another season in Detroit, actually play him every night, use him correctly, and he may be able to give us the scoring we all hoped he'd bring to the roster. He should come cheap, and probably on another short-term deal, so even if he fails to prove himself again, there's not much lost in terms of time or cap space. And if he does succeed, well, the only ones upset will be equipment managers and other teams' goalies after Teeny Pokemon blasts his way through all their goals and padding.
So should the Red Wings take another shot with Pulkkinen? Or should the Finn be allowed to walk? Feel free to add in your thoughts and/or terms of a deal in the comments below.
Should the Red Wings re-sign Teemu Pulkkinen?