A lot of NHL fan bases like to start hashtag campaigns to get the organization’s top prospects out of the minors and onto the big club. The Chicago Blackhawks lobbied for Teuvo Teravainen for months before injuries opened the door for an audition.
The #freeteuvo tag is still alive and well, but it isn’t because of how the 20-year-old has performed in the NHL this season. Through 15 games, he has two goals and two assists while seeing less than 12 minutes of ice time on average.
Promise and pedigree can do strange things to people.
Teravainen has performed much better in the AHL, and it’s clear that he still needs some seasoning before jumping into Chicago’s top-nine (don’t shoot the messenger). The ‘Hawks aren’t the only fan base that gets riled up about high-end prospects sitting in the AHL.
The Detroit Red Wings used a similar approach with Gustav Nyquist before finally giving him a permanent roster spot last year. It seems like “Goose” has been piling up the goals and defying all shooting percentage logic for three seasons now, but he only appeared in 55 contests in 2013-14. He spent the rest of the time in Grand Rapids, and fans were none too pleased.
Nyquist is a full-time NHLer now, but Detroit finds itself in a similar situation with Teemu Pulkkinen. Roster spots aren’t easy to come by with this franchise, but it seems the 23-year-old has done his time. Through 44 AHL contests this season, Pulkkinen has notched 30 goals and added 27 assists. That warrants a call up with most teams, but the Red Wings haven’t had the space for his contract.
A victim of the numbers game, as they say.
Now injuries are shaking out in Pulkkinen’s favor, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the former fourth-round pick stick in the NHL for good this time. Detroit’s offense has looked listless in two of its last three games, and the race to lock up postseason spots is more important than over-seasoning a prospect in the minors.
It’s easy to make the case for the youngster already falling under that over-seasoned heading though. That’s why head coach Mike Babcock has the luxury of using a guy that was in the minor leagues a day ago on the team’s top line.
Tatar-Datsyuk-Jurco (for Helm)
Cleary rotating in
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Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader make up the “pair” that won’t be split up on that top line, but Pulkkinen has a chance to make it impossible for management to demote him again. That’s how Nyquist stuck in the NHL a year ago; by scoring relentlessly and adding an element to the team that had been missing.
Babcock spoke about that very thing with George Sipple of The Detroit Free Press. What does Pulkkinen need to do to stay with the Red Wings?
He’s gotta take someone’s job, just like everyone else. We’ve had lots of guys come up. Some stay and some don’t.
The bench boss also spoke about why the forward hasn’t earned a roster spot just yet. These words won’t fall on deaf ears for Pulkkinen. Not if he wants to remain in Detroit, anyway:
I see a kid a little bit nervous, that’s why we sent him back down. He’s got an absolute bomb of a shot. He’s tenacious. He’s on the puck. He’s strong. The NHL today, there’s no room. So, you gotta find ways to generate offense in no space. You gotta create your own space, so being strong, on your feet, being able to leverage your body is so important. He does those things. He just keeps going. A machine-like scorer. That’s going to translate at some point. Is it this time?
It’s somehow become lost in the shuffle that goal scoring is the most valuable skill a hockey player can have. Possession, PDO, zone starts—all of these things are simply trying to figure out goals while not giving up any more than necessary.
Pulkkinen can put pucks in the net. Plain and simple. He’s not going to get away with not playing in all three zones, but that’s the kind of thing that you can hone and iron out in the AHL. The Griffins, to their credit, do a spectacular job teaching these younger players the finer points of the game. He’s not going to come in and be Jonathan Toews, but he’s going to be lining up with two dynamite neutral zone players in Zetterberg and Abdelkader.
Staying on a Babcock coached team is difficult, but the way to do so is simple: take care of the puck and do your job. If Pulkkinen can jump-start the idling offense and light the lamp a few times without making costly turnovers, Grand Rapids won’t be getting him back any time soon. Or ever.