DETROIT — It’s amazing that the Grand Rapids Griffins are in second place in the Western Conference considering how many of their players are in Detroit.
Add Teemu Pulkkinen to that list.
Pulkkinen, 22, is set to make his NHL debut Friday when the Red Wings host the Edmonton Oilers.
Pulkkinen has 26 goals and 25 assists in 60 games with the Griffins this season, nine more points than any other Griffin.
"Obviously he’s a real good shooter," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "He’s played pro hockey in Finland before so it’s not like he hasn’t played with men before. It’s like a lot of kids, gotta learn how to play, but Blas (Griffins coach Jeff Blashill) said he’s come a long way so he gets an opportunity here."
After practice, Pulkkinen said he was looking forward to his first NHL game.
"I’m feeling pretty good, it’s nice to be here and I’m very excited about Friday’s game," Pulkkinen said. "It’s going to be fun. I’m not that nervous, it’s just one hockey game. I’ve been playing hockey since I was a little kid so it’s just another game. You have to enjoy it.
Pulkkinen was on a line with Cory Emmerton and Drew Miller during practice. He also was on the point for the second power play unit along with Danny DeKeyser.
Pulkkinen scored from the point during practice and hopes to do so during Friday’s game.
"I played in Finland too, sometimes, especially when it was 5-on-3," Pulkkinen said. "That’s a good place for me. You get a lot of chances to shoot so that’s real nice."
When people talk about Pulkkinen, the first thing they mention is his shot.
"Teemu is an interesting player, he’s obviously not very big but he skates hard, he plays hard and loves to shoot the puck," Emmerton said. "He’s got an unbelievable shot, possibly one of the best I’ve ever played with or seen. I don’t know if he’s scored an ugly goal all year; they’ve all been pretty much slap shots, blowing it by the goalie.
"Obviously, the NHL is a different level but we’ll see how that plays out. But I think he’s got a real bright future and he wants to play and play hard, so he’s got that going for him."
Gustav Nyquist remembered that shot from playing with Pulkkinen in Grand Rapids.
"It’s just so hard, very accurate, too," Nyquist said. "He usually shoots slap shots. I haven’t seen him take too many wristers. He likes to wind up and obviously when he gets that extra time it’s hard for the goalie to react to a hard shot like that, so he’s a really good shooter."
Jimmy Howard offered the goaltender’s perspective on Pulkkinen’s shot.
"As a goalie I know in practice it’s not the best (thing to face it), it’s a little scary, I don’t think he even knows where it’s going half the time, so he can really fire it and he’s got some great speed, too, that we can use up front," Howard said.
It’s a little unusual that a European-born player would be thinking to shoot first, but that’s Pulkkinen.
"I’ve been practicing that since a little kid, playing outside and when you have free time on the ice," Pulkkinen said. "I like to shoot the puck. That’s my type of game. I want to shoot, score goals, so that’s what I like to work on."
"From what I heard from back in Finland he was a big goal-scorer back there, too," Nyquist said. "He showed this year that he can score a lot of goals. I think he has 26-27 goals in Grand Rapids, which is a lot, especially for a first-year guy. But he really likes to shoot the puck and he does it well."
Not surprisingly, one of Pulkkinen’s favorite players growing up was Teemu Selanne.
"Of course we have one great goal scorer, Teemu Selanne, in Finland, he’s the one guy," Pulkkinen said. "Of course I like all those guys that have good shots and are good goal scorers. That’s the way I want to play. Those are the guys I watch."
Certainly the Wings could use all the scoring they can get at this point.
"He looks like he shoots the puck so shoot the puck," Babcock said. "Do whatever you do, make sure you play well defensively and whatever you do that got you called up, make sure you do."
"It doesn’t matter who you’re playing," Howard said. "You can’t take a night off. In today’s day and age in the NHL anyone can beat anyone on any given night. You have to get ready and prepared the same way no matter who you’re playing."
Said Babcock: "I think a lot of teams are like that, they’re loose and driving. They play tonight. That’s good for us. We have to come out and play. We can’t worry about them. We have to play our game."
The Wings are currently ninth in the Eastern Conference, two points behind both Columbus and Philadelphia and tied with New Jersey with 71 points.
"We got to win games," Howard said. "There’s nothing else you can say. Got to go out there and execute. I think a lot of us are sick and tired of talking about it and that’s what it seems like we’ve been doing lately, just talking about it. We got to go out there and do it."