On Oct. 14, the New York Islanders agreed to an eight-year contract with 27-year-old defenseman Ryan Pulock. The team’s top right-side defenseman, in many ways, reflects head coach Barry Trotz’s vision for the team as a disciplined, defense-first skater who is also a quiet, team-first player. With the extension, Pulock will remain an integral part of the Islanders’ success moving forward.
In the recent seasons since Trotz was hired as the head coach, the Islanders received a pleasant surprise from their defensive unit, watching Pulock emerge as a top defenseman and form one of the best pairings in the NHL alongside Adam Pelech, leading the team to consecutive semifinal appearances. Now, the Islanders are counting on Pulock to lead the roster and putting a lot of confidence in him with the extension.
Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello and the front office are well aware of recent history and know the risks of overpaying a defenseman and giving them a contract with many years attached to it. The San Jose Sharks were a perennial Stanley Cup contender year after year, but after giving star defenseman Erik Karlsson an eight-year, $92 million contract in 2019, they couldn’t retain their other star players and haven’t reached the playoffs since. Similarly, P.K. Subban was given an eight-year, $72 million deal by the Montreal Canadiens in 2014, but has been traded twice since and the New Jersey Devils are trying to build a contender with limited salary cap space as they maneuver that contract.
The Pulock deal isn’t as big a signing as the total is under $50 million, but Lamoriello is still taking a risk and betting on the team’s best defensemen, feeling confident that the move will pay off along with the Islanders front office and fanbase alike.
Pulock’s Rise as the Islanders’ Top Defenseman
Islanders fans knew about Pulock’s ceiling as a defenseman since he was drafted in 2013 with the 15th-overall selection. After a few years of developing, he finally became an established starter by the 2017-18 NHL season where he played 68 games and averaged 18:24 ice time. However, once Trotz became the head coach and instilled his defensive philosophy, the Islanders took off and saw the rise from their veteran defenseman.
In each of the past three seasons, Pulock has contributed 4.2 defensive point shares or more, leading the roster in the category in each season, and has 100 blocked shots or more per season as well. Moreover, he became one of the best defensive zone defensemen as he broke up opposing scoring chances and would limit passing lanes to help turn the Islanders into one of the best defensive units in the NHL, a unit that allowed only 2.33 goals per game in 2018-19 and 2.23 goals per game in 2020-21, both of which were either the best or second-best in the NHL that season.
Pulock’s Playoff Success
In addition, the Islanders being a perennial playoff team each of the past three seasons and appearing in the Stanley Cup Semifinal in consecutive seasons is allowing the hockey world at large to notice Pulock as one of the best defensive defensemen in the NHL. Hockey fans across the league saw firsthand how Pulock, often playing alongside Pelech, would eliminate some of the best scorers in the game including Sidney Crosby and David Pastrnak, as well as some of the best scoring shifts in the league with excellent skating in the neutral zone and cutting off angles toward the net. In the 2021 Playoffs run, the Islanders also saw more than they anticipated from the 26-year-old defenseman from the point as he added four goals and two assists, leading the unit in goals and providing an additional advantage to the offense.
The biggest moment for Pulock in the playoffs came in Game 4 of the semifinal matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In the final seconds of the game, Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh had a clear path to the net and looked to score the game-tying goal, but Pulock calmly dived in front of the shot to save the game and give the Islanders a 3-2 victory. The play itself spoke volumes, not just to the defensive ability, but to how the Islanders’ top defenseman plays the position in general with a calm, disciplined and instinctive approach.
What’s Next For Pulock?
Pulock is going to continue playing well on the defensive end of the ice, allowing the Islanders to possess one of the best defenses in the league but with the new contract, the hope is that the offensive play improves as well. The Stanley Cup Playoffs provided a glimpse into what he could provide from the point with one of the hardest snapshots on the team and becoming an offensive playmaker from the point will not only help put the team over the top, but it will also allow the Islanders’ top defenseman to enter the Norris Trophy conversation.
More importantly, the new contract allows Pulock to play a key role in the team’s success moving forward and hopefully lead the team to the Stanley Cup. The Islanders pushed the Lightning to the brink last season and are within striking distance of the Cup — he is going to be a major factor in the roster’s ability to get over the hump and win it for the first time since the 1982-83 NHL season.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November but has been a journalist for multiple blogs since the end of the 2019-2020 NHL season. While not following any specific team, Mike covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers, a team that has turned themselves into legitimate cup contenders with Barry Trotz as the head coach.