Teemu Pulkkinen: The Detroit Red Wings Secret, Unused Weapon

Photograph: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Photograph: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Red Wings struggle to score goals. Teemu Pulkkinen is a goal scorer, if nothing else. Yet he’s buried on the bench. The obvious question is why?

The Detroit Red Wings have received elite goaltending this year from Petr Mrazek. They’ve dealt with significant injuries to key defensemen, yet as a group they’ve held their own. In a closely contested Eastern Conference playoff race, the Red Wings need something to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. And their biggest weakness this year has been their inability to consistently score goals.

Currently, the Red Wings rank just 20th in goals per game. If they could improve on that mark, they would increase their chances of making the postseason, and perhaps make a deep run in the playoffs. For all the offensive talent on Detroit’s roster they don’t have many pure goal scorers.

Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have scored plenty during their careers, but they’re more likely to assist others in goal scoring opportunities at this point in their careers.

Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar are hopefully young stars in the making, but they are still inconsistent and streaky with their offensive contributions.

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Teen sensation Dylan Larkin leads the Red Wings in scoring with 19 goals, but even that is only good enough to rank him 37th best in the NHL.

If only the Red Wings had a player with a special penchant for goal scoring…

The thing is, they have Teemu Pulkkinen – the holy slapper, the pulkcannon!

And yet Pulkkinen remains benched. He has appeared in only 29 games this season, and has been a healthy scratch in a handful of games, since returning from injury.

Why? Why would the Wings not give themselves more opportunities to have Pulkkinen play meaningful minutes? Pulkkinen’s best asset is something the Red Wings sorely lack. So why are they possibly handcuffing themselvses offensively?

Coach Jeff Blashill is not an ageist. He proved that when he announced young Dylan Larkin had earned an opening night roster spot. So it can’t be Pulkkinen’s relative youth. Blashill has also shown himself to be pretty patient and loyal to those players he has an AHL history with. See Tomas Jurco and Jakub Kindl. Pulkkinen and Blashill have an extensive AHL history together. But still, Pulkkinen sits.

To be fair, Pulkkinen has his weaknesses. He isn’t the greatest skater at an NHL level. He isn’t the best defender, even for a forward. He’s not the most physical player. And his strengths are best accentuated playing with terrific playmakers, so he is not as effective playing on third or fourth lines.

But even so, Pulkkinen has a long history of scoring. On Jokerit of Finland he broke Teemu Selanne‘s 20 year old single-season record for assists by a rookie. When Pulkkinen’s career moved to the AHL, he continued setting offensive records. Last season, he led the AHL in goal scoring with 34 goals, while only playing 46 games.

And even though he has played sparsely this year with the Red Wings, his points per game average is still good enough to rank him seventh among Red Wings forwards, and eighth overall on the team.

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On a team that struggles to score goals, it seems shortsighted not to give Pulkkinen more chances to establish himself and succeed. Perhaps there are other factors in play, who knows? One thing is certain – Teemu Pulkkinen has scored consistently at every level he’s played, but he can’t score for the Red Wings if he’s sitting on the bench.