Detroit — Teemu Pulkkinen, the 5-foot-11 forward with the big, booming shot is quietly having a fine start for the Red Wings.
If things go well with his new line, Pulkkinen’s profile may rise, considerably.
Already on a pace to score 20 goals in what looks like his first full season in Detroit, the 23-year-old was to play with Pavel Datsyuk, 37, and Brad Richards, 35, against the Kings on Friday.
Has he played with either veteran playmaker much before?
“Not really,” said the native of Vantaa, Finland, whom the Red Wing selected 111th overall in the 2010 draft. “I think we’ve been together on some power plays, but not really on five-on-fives. So, we’ll see how it’s going to go.
“But, for sure, it’s a great opportunity for me to play with players like Pav and Richie.”
Both Datsyuk and Richards are trying to get their games going, after long layoffs for injuries. Pulkkinen might provide a spark.
Entering the game, he had five goals and three assists in 18 games and is a plus-two.
Other than the 19-year-old wunderkind, Dylan Larkin, Pulkkinen supplies the most energy of any of the Wings forwards, coach Jeff Blashill said of the 185-pound dynamo.
“First of all, I think he’s played well all year,” Blashill said. “I think that’s showed in chances for. I think that’s showed in goal production, five-on-five, given the amount of ice time per game.
“He’s actually got to do a better job on the power play, I think.
“I also think he’s given us energy,” said the coach who also coached Pulkkinen in the AHL, where he won a Calder Cup and the Willie Marshall Award (most goals in an AHL season). “But I don’t think that’s necessarily an evolution in his game. I think that’s what he’s done, generally.
“He plays extremely hard. He’s on the puck lots.
“He can give you energy, for sure. When he gets in trouble is when he doesn’t stop. If he stops defensively and faces the puck all over the ice, he’s a real effective player.
“So, we’re hoping he can bring energy to Datsyuk and Richards. And obviously he’s got the ability to score goals.”
Pulkkinen is making the best of his opportunity.
“He’s getting a little extra opportunity tonight, he hasn’t had, so far, this year,” Blashill said.
Pulkkinen knows that as a young player, awareness is critical to his success on the ice. But with advanced playmakers like Datsyuk and Richards, he knows there is an increased responsibility to be alert and expect the unexpected, offensively.
”Yeah, that’s the one thing,” he said. “You play with Pavs and Richie and both guys can really pass the puck and know how to make plays, and the one thing for you is just to be ready. Be ready all the time and try to find the spots for your shots.”
He was a 2015 AHL first-team All-Star after scoring 34 goals in 46 games. He was named to the 2014 AHL All-Rookie Team.
The Calder Cup came in 2013, which came after two appearances in the World Junior Championships for Finland (9-10-19 in 13 games, 2011 and 2012).
Until last week, after he and teammate Brendan Smith got into a bit of a tussle during a battle drill in practice, some observers may not have realized how much passion Pulkkinen brings to his game.
Hard work is his emphasis, Pulkkinen said, and he thinks that he has earned his reputation with Blashill.
“That’s what I try to do. I try to work hard on the ice, off the ice,” he said. “That’s my type of game.
“I try to create some turnovers. If they turn over the puck, it’s usually a good chance for us to score the goals.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit with the scoring.
“The thing is, when we play hard and we play with the energy, we’re going to get our goals. It’s coming for sure. We’ve maybe been a bit unlucky, and we need some bounces.
“They are coming.”
Of his own performance, Pulkkinen said he would like to take more advantage of the scoring chances he encounters.
“There are chances for sure,” he said.
“Bu sometimes you feel, like for me: I’ve had good chances. But I don’t score on the good chances I have. Then, I shoot the puck wide by a couple of feet and it’s going in like off someone’s leg or something.
“You just have to earn your bounces.
“If you work hard and keep doing the same things all of the time, then you will get lucky.”