Regner: Pulkkinen has limited window to prove he belongs with Wings

Teemu Pulkkinen has been a prospect that the Wings have touted for years.

Jose Juarez/AP

Saturday night in Washington all eyes from a Red Wings perspective will be focused on high-scoring forward Teemu Pulkkinen, who will make his Detroit season debut against the Capitals.

Pulkkinen, who just turned 23 last week, has been tearing up the American Hockey League. The Finnish native leads the AHL with 20 goals in 33 games and is tied for second overall in scoring with 39 points.

He has scored in eight straight games for the Griffins, which tied him for the team record. He’s known for having a laser beam for a shot and best of all, he shoots right handed.

Drafted in the 4th round (111th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Pulkkinen, 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, has been a prospect that the Wings have touted for years. 

The chatter coming from within the organization was that once again Detroit "lucked out" by drafting such a highly skilled player in the middle round of the NHL Draft.

Last week I mentioned Pulkkinen to a Wings official and based on his reaction, you would have thought I was comparing Pulkkinen to Wayne Gretzky.

"The NHL is a league of fulfilled potential, it’s not a league of guys with potential," the official said. "Pulkkinen would need 19 minutes a night to prove he can score at the NHL level and Mike Babcock won’t play him 19 minutes.

"Almost everybody on our roster has put up big numbers at some point in juniors, college, Europe or the minors, but it’s much more difficult to score goals in the NHL."

This official wasn’t saying that Pulkkinen will eventually become a bust or that someday he won’t be a consistent goal scorer for the Wings. What he was telling me is that Pulkkinen will need an adjustment period to modify his game to the NHL’s style of play.

Where his game fits in will determine what kind of role he’ll have on a team’s roster.

"When Grand Rapids won the Calder Cup, Luke Glendening had sixteen points in 24 playoff games," this official said. "We love Glendening as a player, but he may never reach 16 total points in one NHL season.

"It’s hard to score, if it was so easy, everybody would be scoring. Our games would consistently be something like 8 to 6."

If there is any indication of how the Wings feel about Pulkkinen, you have to look back to last season’s David Legwand trade. Nashville wanted either Pulkkinen or Calle Jarnkrok in exchange for the Detroit native and without much hesitation, the Red Wings shipped out Jarnkrok.

Jarnkrok has 10 points in 36 games for the Predators this season and though the Legwand deal has not set well with many Wings fans, it may be a small price to pay if Pulkkinen emerges as a scorer in the NHL.

"We’re going to have to make a decision on him (Pulkkinen) because we can’t send him down next season (he’ll have to clear waivers)," the official said. "So, we’ll see what we have. Next year he’s with us or we’ll have to consider trading him."

The official added that by next fall the Wings will have developed a pretty good picture of whether they believe Pulkkinen will be an NHL goal scorer or not.

What will make this evaluation difficult will be how much of an opportunity he’ll actually have with the Red Wings.

How many minutes he will play, what line he’ll be on and how much power play time Pulkkinen will receive has yet to be determined. 

With the Wings in the thick of aiming for the best record in the Eastern Conference, Pulkkinen could have an extremely limited window to prove that he belongs with the Wings.    

Of course if Pulkkinen makes the best of whatever playing time he receives, the Wings will find a way to keep him on the current roster, that’s just the way it works.

It all begins Saturday in Washington and despite the obstacles Pulkkinen may face at the NHL level, I can’t wait for his audition to begin.