In terms of talent evaluation and potential, few players in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft are as hard to pin down as Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman Ryan Pulock.
Having a late 1994 birthday, making him older than most of the other players available in the draft, has given scouts an extra year to evaluate Pulock's capabilities, yet they still vary quite significantly when it comes to where he ranks among this year's draft class. Although placed within the range of 10-15 on average, some believe him to be a Top 5 talent in any other, shallower draft year, while conversely TSN's Craig Button has him as low as 30th.
What's undeniable, however, is that Pulock knows how to put up points, as shown by his impressive stats from the WHL:
|2012-2013||Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)||61||14||31||45||-7||22|
|2011-2012||Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)||71||19||41||60||+33||20|
|2010-2011||Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)||63||8||34||42||+2||4|
Pulock's greatest offensive weapon is his bomb from the point, as he possesses probably the hardest slapshot out of any draft-eligible player and isn't afraid to unload it. He can keep it low to generate rebounds or take it high to find the corner of the net, and despite his age already has the offensive instincts to know when to utilize each one. His passing is also highly impressive, as he can make hard, accurate feeds and usually knows the right places to put them. He's not the type of defender to go end-to-end with the puck, but he can still effectively navigate his way through traffic.
Pulock's gaudy 60 points in 2011-2012 undoubtedly were enhanced by playing on an overall great offensive team, but his 45 points this season are almost more impressive considering he did so with almost no support and while battling injuries. Hands down, he was Brandon's top offensive weapon, which is incredibly rare for a defenceman in the WHL.
While people are quick to make note of his offensive game, they often do so while glossing over the fact that he also plays a high-end defensive game, having been one of Brandon's top shutdown defencemen for the last two seasons. Standing a little over 6'0" and weighing in around 210 pounds, Pulock's size is below average for high-ranking defensive prospects, but he still manages to play a smart, reliable defensive game due in large part to his impressive hockey IQ.
He's not a punishing physical player, but still manages to use his size effectively by picking the right times and places to apply it, delivering a check or being strong along the boards if the situation calls for it. Pulock's +33 rating in 2011-2012 was miles ahead of his closest defenceman teammate, who was a +16. Possibly the most impressive thing about Pulock's defensive game is that he's able to do it, and do it well, while staying out of the penalty box, racking up far, far less minors than most WHL defenecemen of his age and caliber.
A noted leader on and off the ice, Pulock also serves as captain of the Wheat Kings. His compete level is high, and his combined 11 points in 15 playoff games shows that he can elevate his play when he needs to.
So for a guy that excels offensively, is reliable defensively, and has an ideal mentality towards the game, why is he not considered more of a home-run pick? That's a good question, one that doesn't have an immediate answer.
Most elite defencemen prospects are either huge or silky smooth. Pulock isn't either, playing a different style of game altogether, so that may be working against him as scouts will often point to his size and his skating speed as areas of concern. Considering he plays in the most physical junior league in the world more snarl is expected out of his game. Even though his decrease in production this season was because of a combination of injuries and a bad supporting cast, a dropoff in points will always set off some red flags. Still, all hockey prospects have flaws in their games, and Pulock's seem to be more minor than most.
Even though the Dallas Stars currently have a glut of defensive prospects, Pulock's heavy shot and leadership abilities are still traits that the team's future blueline is in short supply of. While it's no secret that the Stars are most likely targeting forwards with their 10th overall pick, going for Pulock instead would not be a bad choice whatsoever, as he possesses the potential to not only be one of the biggest steals of this draft, but also the potential to be a #1 or #2 defenceman for years to come.
Pulock is a cerebral, smooth skating, offensive minded blueliner with outstanding mobility and agility. He has the ability to consistently produce offensive chances from the backend. He makes strong reads and reacts quickly in transition whether defensively or offensively. Pulock likes to rush the puck up the ice, makes strong and accurate passes that are typically well timed. He has nice vision that allows him to read the play and see his options. He can also generate second and third chances for his forwards off rebounds from his strong point shot. He is an excellent power play QB.
Corey Pronman, Hockey Prospectus:
Finding the perfect spot for Pulock was difficult. Some scouts consider him to be a top-eight player in this draft, whereas others prefer him in the 11-15 range. Despite concerns, he has been one of the WHL's top offensive defensemen for the past three seasons. He tied for the points lead among all Wheat Kings this year. His best tool is his shot, which is elite, and NHL teams will utilize it atop the umbrella on their first power play unit. It has been clocked at over 100 miles per hour in skills competitions. His offensive game is well rounded, as he is a high-end thinker who has been described as a methodical puck mover. Pulock always seems to make the right decisions, whether it is to rush, pass, or shoot. Defensively, he is strong on his checks, controls his gaps well, and generally stays with his assignments. Still, he is prone to a breakdown at certain times. The biggest criticism of Pulock is his skating. Some scouts describe it as average, others as above average. Despite having solid mobility, he does not seem to have a blazing top gear. His game is more based on feel than dangling or pushing the pace.
The Hockey News:
The Brandon Wheat Kings captain was injured for the prospects game and his team missed the playoffs, but Pulock has impressed scouts over the past two seasons.
Offense is Pulock's calling card, but scouts are divided on where he'll fit on an NHL team. Some think he's a top-four defenseman, while others think he'll struggle to be a top-six. His skating is not elite, but he has one of the hardest, heaviest shots among draft-eligible players. "He's just a solid all-round defenseman," a scout said. "He's not going to wow you with any flash, but he's got a real steadiness to his game. You know what you're getting with him and he's going to be a real solid NHL player."
Not all scouts are as impressed. "He might be as good now as he's ever going to be," another scout said. "That's OK, but it's nothing special. A lot of guys in this draft will go by him down the road. He's got a good shot, but his size and mobility are average."