As has been echoed by myself and others at ILWT for the past couple weeks, the Devils' system is paper thin when it comes to forwards. There is still the possibility that the Devils will take a defender if they feel that is the best guy on the board, though. Ryan Pulock presents an interesting case in that he is a defenseman, but he has undeniable offensive upside at the same time. Could that be enough to convince the Devils to take him with the 9th pick if they aren't high on the remaining forwards?
Who is Ryan Pulock?
Ryan Pulock is a defenseman for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL. He's been in the WHL for three years now and has put up fairly impressive numbers from the blue line for the Wheat Kings. He has been among the top 20 in points as a defenseman each of the past 3 years in the WHL, with a total of 147 points in 195 regular season games (0.75ppg). The most notable characteristic of Pulock's game is his shot, which is fantastic, according to scouts, experts, and other assorted people who have functioning eyes.
Pulock isn't huge, but he is a decent size at about 6'-1" and 211 pounds. He's 18 and a bit on the older side for this draft, with an October 1994 birthday. NHL Central Scouting has him ranked as its 12th best North American skater, and ISS has him at number 14 overall in their rankings. An aggregate ranking by NHL Numbers puts him at number 12. So it appears his raw ranking by scouting organizations is a bit below where the Devils are picking, but there's certainly a lot to like about Poulock in spite of this.
Between his great shot and his good decision making, scouts really seem to like what Pulock brings as an offensive defenseman. In their post on the NHL equivalencies for players in the draft this year, NHL Numbers puts him second behind only Seth Jones among defensemen. Though he is known for his offensive skill, he still seems to be regarded as a pretty decent defender among scouts. Pulock also gets a fair amount of praise for his awareness and hockey IQ, which is always good to hear about a prospect. Overall, it would appear that Pulock has a great shot at becoming a productive two-way defender in this league.
Ryan Pulock Player Statistics
What Experts are Saying About Pulock
I'll go to Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus, who has Pulock at number 12 in his draft rankings, first:
"His best tool is his shot, which is elite, and NHL teams will utilize it atop the umbrella on their first power play unit. It has been clocked at over 100 miles per hour in skills competitions. His offensive game is well rounded, as he is a high-end thinker who has been described as a methodical puck mover. Pulock always seems to make the right decisions, whether it is to rush, pass, or shoot. Defensively, he is strong on his checks, controls his gaps well, and generally stays with his assignments. Still, he is prone to a breakdown at certain times. The biggest criticism of Pulock is his skating. Some scouts describe it as average, others as above average. Despite having solid mobility, he does not seem to have a blazing top gear. His game is more based on feel than dangling or pushing the pace."
There's definitely a lot to like there. He has a great shot, but knows how to utilize it well. Having a player who can make good decisions on the blue line with tools like Pulock has would definitely be an asset to a team. The concerns about his skating are there, but don't look particularly huge, either. Good positioning and awareness should be able to make up for being an average skater as a defender.
Christopher Ralph has a pretty nice profile of Pulock over at The Hockey Writers. He mentions the great shot, but also how Ryan is effective in many other parts of his game as well:
Ryan projects to be a future powerplay quarterback and all-around effective blueliner. He generates offense though good decision making, accurate passing and effectively utilizing his booming shot. He has a low panic threshold, high awareness and makes good on opportunities as the circumstances allow.
The numbers lie – from time to time. Upon first glance of Pulock’s stats line, without knowing his full body of work, one might get the impression he has regressed this season. You couldn’t be further from the truth.
Last season, Pulock notched 60 points (17G, 53A) with a +33 rating in a stellar season. This season, one hampered by injuries (especially the second half after his wrist injury), he registered 45 points (14 G, 31 A) in 61 games. His Brandon Wheat Kings also went from a playoff squad to last place in the WHL’s eastern conference. Pulock was also tied for the team lead in scoring, playing 5 games less than co-leader Tim McGauley.
I like that he noted Pulock's wrist injury for the slight slip in output this past season. It's pretty clear that the kid has some serious offensive talent at this point. Ralph also notes at the end of his profile that Pulock was originally drafted as a forward by the Wheat Kings.
Craig Button of TSN did a short Sportscentre piece on Pulock (and also Seth Jones) in the fall. He starts talking about Pulock about 1:40 in:
You have to like that Button mentions that he will actually try to find good lanes for his shot and make good plays with the puck rather than just drilling pucks into defenders or the glass. As we all know, having a cannon of a shot is much less effective when you fail to hit the net 85% of the time (*cough* Brian Rolston *cough*). Button even compares him to Al MacInnis at one point, which may be a little bit of hyperbole given that MacInnis has one of the most renowned slap shots of all time, but still, hard to say it's a bad thing to be compared to a Hall-of-Famer by a scout.
Here are a couple highlight videos of Pulock. His shot is purdy:
He also did a radio interview with HockeyProspect.com's Michelle Sturino here if you want to have a listen.
Pulock definitely has the potential to be an elite offensive defenseman in this league. The Devils oft-mediocre power play unit could also use an additional non-Ilya Kovalchuk option from the point down the road. Experts alsto seem to agree on how much of a smart hockey player he is and how well he makes decisions with and without the puck. This combination of skills certainly makes him an attractive pick as a defenseman for an offensively-challenged team. His play in his own zone is not as highly regarded, but most seem to think he can manage himself well enough there and perhaps even excel at it. Reading about him and that elite shot, you at least have to consider him versus the likes of Ristolainen or Nurse when talking about defenders.
The flip side is that if you are going to draft a player for offense, why not just draft a foward? Chances are that there will still be a few high-level forwards left on the board when the Devils choose at number nine. Having an offensive d-man is certainly an attractive luxury, but given the state of the Devils' system at forward, I think I'd rather they dedicate their resources to a guy who can contribute offense up front rather than the blue line.
In spite of that, I would still be at least a little excited to have a defender in the system who can rocket a 100mph slap shot from time to time.
So what do you think of Ryan Pulock? How do you feel he stacks up versus some of the other defenders we've profiled? What would you think if the Devils ended up drafting him with the 9th pick? If they trade down and he's still available, do you take him then? Sound off below. Thanks for reading.