By Daniel Friedman
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“I guess that’s what the clock said.”
That’s all Ryan Pulock had to offer me the morning after he let go a 105 mile-per-hour slap shot during a fastest shot competition.
Pulock, like most of the Islanders’ prospects, were at Barclays Center for an exhibition match and skills contest, putting on a show and giving the fan base a glimpse into the future.
Unlike most of those prospects, however, Pulock came to camp with an NHL frame, his shot surpassing the speed of a Matt Harvey fastball. I’d asked him if he was aware of how much more zip he’d added to his shot in just 12 months.
Though he tried his best to be humble about it, I wanted to know more. Was it the added muscle he put on? Did technique have anything to do with it? As I anticipated but wanted to confirm, the answer was “yes” to both.
“I think it’s just about getting stronger,” said Pulock, though he also mentioned “the technique has always been there.”
And boy, did he get stronger. He was a man amongst boys during rookie camp; you could just tell how prepared he was – at least from a physical standpoint – to play in the NHL, compared to his lanky and more raw colleagues.
It wasn’t just strength that Pulock added, but smarts as well. He’s far more positionally sound than he was last summer, and he’s come even further since draft night.
That’s pretty substantial when you consider that Pulock was mainly touted as an offensive-defenseman in the days leading up to the entry draft. He might as well have been a taller (and hopefully more accurate) Marc-Andre Bergeron.
All of the emphasis was on his offensive zone prowess and, of course, his howitzer.
For those of you who don’t know what a “howitzer” is, it’s the best hockey moniker ever conceived, and people need to start using it to describe slap shots again (rant over).
But I digress.
My next question for Pulock: “You wear No. 6, you have the slap shot. Do you take after Shea Weber?”
He chuckled, then proceeded to tell me that’s just the number he’d been given, then praised Weber.
Since hockey players don’t brag about themselves, I turned to a couple of friends – TSN’s Craig Button and Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek – whose opinions I hold in high regard when it comes to evaluating talent. I asked them if the comparison had any validity.
“Ryan is smart like Shea,” said Button. “Ryan had to improve his pace of play and certainly has done that. Whether it’s Shea or (Brent) Seabrook, it’s a discussion about a pillar defenseman and those types are important to a team’s success.”
Then, he made a comparison that was as unexpected as it was complimentary.
“Al MacInnis is another guy who came to mind when watching Ryan,” he said. “Weber had to improve his game in the minors and did. Ryan is taking strides forward for sure.”
Al MacInnis. As in Hockey Hall of Famer, and Norris and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Al MacInnis. The really good one. I don’t know if Pulock will ever be that great, but the fact that it’s even being mentioned as a possibility is probably a good sign.
Marek was a bit more reserved, though he did acknowledge some similarities between the two that already exist.
“They both have the bomb from the point,” he said. “Weber is still a more complete man than Pulock.”
That’s absolutely true and unsurprising, given that Weber’s been around quite a while and Pulock’s never played in the NHL. In time, however, the gap between the two could start to tighten up.
“Over the year, I think I developed as a player, especially in the defensive zone,” said Pulock. “I think you could see I was making strides, and for myself to make the next jump and be an elite player in the NHL, that’s an area I really have to work on and continue to improve in.”
Pulock has a real shot to make the Islanders this year. He probably would’ve been on the roster last season if not for the acquisitions of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy.
It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for him to spend the year in Bridgeport, either. He really honed his defensive skills and got stronger.
“I’m fighting every inch for a spot,” Pulock said. “(Playing in Bridgeport) has helped me mature my game a lot.”
He’s certainly more prepared for the NHL now than he was last time around, and head coach Jack Capuano is pretty confident he’ll be ready come training camp.
“He’s one of the young guys we know will be fighting for a job in camp,” Capuano told Newsday’s Arthur Staple. “I think he has a clear understanding of what’s expected of him. He understands what he can bring, especially with that offense from the back end. We had a good talk (in April), and we had a good talk this week about how he needs to be prepared the next couple months.”
Pulock might not be a stud right from the outset (defensemen rarely are), but as Capuano alluded to, he should be able to help the power play upon arrival.
That’s an area the Islanders were lacking in down the stretch and during the first round of the playoffs, even despite the fact that they have some potent weapons.
Once he’s fully developed, though, watch out. Pulock doesn’t just have a chance to be a good player for the Islanders. He has franchise defenseman potential, and I think we’re going to look back and wonder how on Earth he slipped to the Isles and didn’t go in the top 10 at the draft.
It’s all really dependent on how his defensive game pans out at the NHL level. We already know that, at minimum, he’s going to be super with the puck and a 40 or 50-point player. But if he can continue to upgrade his all-around capabilities (and he’s started to do that over the past year), he’ll be the type of keystone every team needs on defense.
Stay tuned, because the Ryan Pulock show opens this fall.
Follow Daniel Friedman on Twitter @DFriedmanOnNYI.