The NY Islanders need the playoffs version of Ryan Pulock next season

New York Islanders v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Two
New York Islanders v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Two / Jaylynn Nash/GettyImages

Over recent seasons, defenseman Ryan Pulock established himself as a key piece to the New York Islanders' core. He's dependable, tough, and still possesses one of the league's hardest shots in the game - though we don't see it often enough.

As good as he's been, turning himself into an upside prospect to a shutdown-level defenseman worthy of receiving an eight-year extension two summers ago, it still feels there is more to his game than what we see most nights during the 82-game regular season. For those that have long felt way, the playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes last April showed that this is likely the case.

Playoff time is when all players raise their game, but Pulock was playing with a noticeable edge and aggressiveness that stood out. The 2013 1st round pick (15th overall) has been part of deep Islanders playoff runs in the past, so it's not as if we haven't seen him play in that setting before. This time, something just felt different.

“In our, sort of, defense, if I look at them, Ryan Pulock in my mind raised his game to the level that we thought he could be, said GM Lou Lamoriello back in June. "In my mind, he was our best defenseman in the playoffs." Everyone that watched the six-game series against the Canes would agree.

Pulock leveled Canes forward Jack Drury in the game's opening seconds, setting the tone for his play during the series. "That's playoff hockey," Pulcok said of his hit. "It's a long series, and you try to wear teams down, and it's not that fun getting hit every shift, so you try to be physical as much as you can." He had nine hits in Game 1, more than he has had in any game in his career - playoffs or regular season. At times, his aggressiveness got the worst of him when he boarded Drury early in Game 4, leading to a Canes power-play that stalled early Isles momentum.

Where things stand, the Islanders are bringing back the same three defensive pairs next season, with the one open question being whether Sebastian Aho can hold off Samuel Bolduc for the sixth defenseman spot to start the season. As is the case with the forward group, Lamoriello and head coach Lane Lambert are banking on individual players simply improving upon last year.

For Pulock, that would mean bringing a more consistent physical edge during the regular season and displaying some of the offensive prowess he showcased early in his career. He had 11 power-play goals and 29 overall from 2017-2020, unleashing a heavy slapshot that can make him a dangerous offensive weapon. Yet, in recent years, he seemingly swapped out offensive success for being a more consistent and reliable defender. As the Islanders searched for answers to their power-play woes, Pulock was rarely looked at as a solution.

While the Islanders' defense had one of their most productive offensive seasons in the last 30 years, Pulock's numbers actually slipped. He had five goals and 21 assists in 82 games. The five goals matched his total in 56 games the prior season, and his 0.32 points-per-game was his second-lowest since the 2017-18 season.

Pulock's name isn't among the first names that come up when discussing which Islanders need to step up or have a bounce-back season. Yet, he is still capable of breaking out in a way that he hasn't done before by displaying all the strengths of his game at the same time, just as he did in the playoffs.