No matter when the player is selected, it’s become almost gospel that if the Detroit Red Wings are making the pick, the kid’s going to turn into something special. And with reason, of course. The lore surrounding late-rounders such as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg is well established, but in recent years prospects such as Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist and Petr Mrazek have all played above their station based on when the Wings picked them. So it’s only fair to wonder about Finnish left winger Teemu Pulkkinen.
Taken 111th overall by Detroit in 2010, Pulkkinen sat fourth in Finland’s highest league with 18 goals and 54 points through 54 games for Jokerit. At 5-foot-11, 183 pounds, he’s not small, so how did the Wings once again get a bargain?
“He’s got a nose for the net,” said Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill. “I think what scared a lot of people in the draft, including us, is that he could score, but didn’t do a lot else.”
Thankfully for Detroit fans, Pulkkinen has improved on that this season, particularly on the biggest stage for junior-agers, the World Junior Championship.
“We thought he played very well,” Nill said. “He’s a natural scorer, but we were more pleased with his all-around game.”
Pulkkinen’s conditioning and ability to compete for loose pucks also improved, which goes a long way in explaining why he has been the SM-liiga’s top rookie. But like all good soldiers, the 19-year-old deflects some of the credit.
“We have a good team and a good line,” he said. “I’m playing with good guys.”
European teens playing in their nation’s top league is not a rare occurrence, so just being there doesn’t guarantee a prospect is on his way. Judging Pulkkinen’s progress against similar prospects playing in, say, major junior or the NCAA involves looking into his specific contribution.
“The key is he’s playing and having success,” Nill said. “Now you know there’s something there.”
At the world juniors, Pulkkinen was the top scorer for a Finnish squad that surprised in the round robin, but flamed out in the medal round. Ironically, the sniping left winger dished out twice as many goals as he scored, with six of his nine points coming from assists.
A big reason for that was the absence of Minnesota Wild first-rounder Mikael Granlund, a playmaking center who missed the tournament with a concussion.
“Of course we expected Teemu to score for our team,” said Finnish national coach Lauri Marjamaki. “He is a typical scorer. We need Finnish hockey players like that.”
Based on the Red Wings’ slow-and-steady development model, both Jokerit and the national junior team can expect to have Pulkkinen back again next season.
“If he approached us and really wanted to come to North America, we’d sit down and show him the positives and negatives,” Nill said. “But he could stay in Finland for a couple more years.”
For his part, Pulkkinen knows he has work to do before trying to crack the vaunted Red Wings roster.
“I have to get more strength in my body and muscles,” he said. “Maybe some day, but not yet.”
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