Defenseman Ryan Pulock arrived from Bridgeport just in time to pack his bag for the Islanders’ most significant road trip of the season. The team’s No. 1 pick (15th overall) in the 2013 draft could make his NHL debut as soon as Tuesday night in Minnesota. He also could be sent back to the AHL when injured Calvin de Haan returns.
Pulock, 21, is excited and nervous. That about sums up the Islanders’ emotions as they face six straight road games. They beat the Devils, 1-0, on Friday night to start the trip.
“It’s make-or-break time for the season, pretty much,’’ Kyle Okposo said. “We could separate ourselves and give ourselves some room in the race or we could fall back and let other teams into it. That’s what our challenge is right now. We’ve got five games on the long trip and then come home and play [at] the Rangers. So it’s a huge five games for us.’’
The Islanders are in third place in the Metropolitan Division with a one-point lead over the Penguins, which right now would mean the difference between playing the second-place Rangers or the division-leading Capitals in the first round. “You are aware of where you’re at and the fact of the other teams are winning and getting points all around you,’’ Okposo said. “You’re doing everything you can when you get the opportunity to play them that you’re getting those two points.’’
Pulock is here because de Haan is on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. “We will leave him home to start just to get some rehab,’’ coach Jack Capuano said of de Haan, “and then as we move forward, hopefully he’ll be able to join us at some point during this trip.’’
Throughout the season, Pulock was passed over each time the Islanders needed defensive help from Bridgeport. “It’s just like every other young guy,’’ Capuano said. “There’s some things he needs to continue to work on, but he’s improved. We need to take a look at him as well and see what he can do, but he’s had a good attitude . . . He’s improved his game in a lot of areas we talked about coming out of training camp.’’
Though Pulock had 17 goals and 12 assists for Bridgeport, Capuano wants him to concentrate on defense, saying, “For me, it’s about how you defend, and that’s the biggest thing for young defensemen.’’
Pulock said, “I’m confident with my game right now. I’ve been playing well, midseason form, so in that way I’m comfortable. Obviously, it’s exciting to be here, but obviously, there’s going to be some nerves. I haven’t played the game yet. Just look forward to hopefully getting my chance.’’
Asked if he is surprised it took this long, Pulock said, “Yes and no. I think the start of the year, I just wasn’t quite good enough. The last few months, I’ve really been focusing in practice. I’ve been really happy the way I’ve been playing here as of late. Obviously, that’s a big part of why I’ve been called up here.’’