April 21, 2014
by Alan Cross – griffinshockey.com
Teemu Pulkkinen has enjoyed a landmark rookie season in North America, to say the least. The Vantaa, Finland, native ended the 2013-14 regular season as the leading scorer for the Grand Rapids Griffins with 31 goals and 28 assists in 71 games. He tied for 16th overall among AHL scorers and ranked second among league rookies. As a result, he was named to the 2013-14 AHL All-Rookie Team on April 9. And in March, he made his NHL debut with the Detroit Red Wings.
Still, it’s not enough.
“My own game? It’s been OK,” said the 22-year-old Pulkkinen following a recent Griffins practice. “Of course, you always want to do better as a player. It’s been OK, but I know that I can do better, and I want to play better.”
Joining the Griffins for their final two games of the 2012-13 season, Pulkkinen made his North American debut on April 20, 2013, following the conclusion of his season with Jokerit Helsinki of the Finnish Elite League. With his speed, determination and will to succeed, Pulkkinen cracked Grand Rapids’ playoff lineup and appeared in 14 postseason contests until the likes of Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson returned after the Wings were knocked out of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Since becoming a full-time Griffin, Pulkkinen has burst on to the North American scene and established himself as a serious emerging talent. From Nov. 29-Dec. 18, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound right wing amassed three goals and seven assists while scoring in eight consecutive games, marking the longest point streak of any Grand Rapids player this season. Furthermore, he tallied a seven-game point streak (Feb. 26-March 23, 8-2—10) and a five-game point streak (Jan. 24-Feb. 1, 5-4—9) and enjoyed 13 multipoint performances.
Pulkkinen’s flashiest accolade this season came during a 5-2 victory at Milwaukee on Feb. 26. Just 59 seconds into the third period, he teed up at the top of the right circle and released his signature slapshot, sending the puck off the post and directly past Admirals goaltender Marek Mazanec.
Just nine seconds later, Pulkkinen stole the puck from a Milwaukee attacker off the faceoff and scored a nearly identical goal from the right circle, once again courtesy of his lightning-fast slapshot. He finished the game with two goals, one assist and a plus-three rating.
“In goals and points, I want more. Every player wants more,” Pulkkinen said. “But all of the little things in the game, like playing smart and playing how the coach wants me to play. All those little things I have to do better. And score some more goals.”
Detroit’s fourth choice (111th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Pulkkinen achieved a lifelong dream when he made his NHL debut with the Wings on March 15 in a 2-1 shootout win over the Edmonton Oilers. A beneficiary of Detroit’s decimated roster, Pulkkinen was recalled as backup for Tomas Jurco’s broken set of ribs. Jurco himself was recalled from the Griffins earlier this season to fill in for an already injury-laden Detroit team.
In three games with Detroit from March 14-20, Pulkkinen saw 22:24 of ice time and garnered two penalty minutes.
“It was great to play in the NHL. When you start hockey as a little kid, everybody wants to play there,” Pulkkinen said. “It was a fun experience, but I didn’t play much. It was of course nice, but I want to play more and improve my game and some day play full time there.”
Three hundred and sixty five days in the States have made all the difference for the Finnish sniper, as his gradual comfort off of the ice has helped his game. Although he was familiar with English prior to his big move across the pond, Pulkkinen’s language skills have vastly improved since taking the North American plunge.
“In Finland, you have to learn English for somewhere around six years at school. It’s a couple hours a week, everybody has to do it,” Pulkkinen said. “I think it’s the same in Sweden and many of the European countries. If there are people from the States or Europe that you don’t share language with, people speak English.”
As a result of immersing himself in an unfamiliar country with a somewhat foreign language, Pulkkinen took a bit of time adjusting to his cultural upheaval.
“Now, I have my own apartment. Last year, I was staying in the hotel so I wasn’t that comfortable living,” Pulkkinen recalled. “The start was a little bit hard for me with everything like the apartment. But now it’s been great. I’ve enjoyed my past five months here a lot.”
And some of his family has been able to visit, which has helped.
“My parents came this season to visit; it was great. They were here for a week,” Pulkkinen said. “I also have one brother, and he played hockey too. We played on the same team in juniors for many years, but now he’s done with hockey and is working. My dad played hockey, so that’s why my brother started to play and that’s why I started to play.”
With his life on and off the ice finally merging into one, Pulkkinen is happy with the direction his career is headed.
“It’s been nice to be here,” Pulkkinen asserted with a smile. “Like I’ve always said, I like my teammates, and I like the people around here. It’s been nice, we’ve been playing good. A little bit up and down, but we’ve played good and we made the playoffs. Now the real game starts.”
In the first round of the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs, Grand Rapids will face the Abbotsford Heat, whom the Griffins met four times in the regular season with a 3-1 series record. Pulkkinen led Grand Rapids with three goals and tied for first with four points during the regular season series with the Heat.
While Pulkkinen saw some action with the Griffins in the playoffs last season, a chance to repeat the title and become a major postseason scorer is an enticing prospect for the up-and-coming star.
“That was great last year, winning the Cup,” Pulkkinen said. “I played 14 games in the playoffs until the guys from Detroit came. It was nice to win the cup, but I didn’t play much, so I’m hungry to win it again. I hope it’s going to be a good year. I’m excited about the playoffs and hope we can play good hockey.”