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  • Finding a home for Teemu Pulkkinen on the Minnesota Wild roster


    In a move that should surprise very few, the Minnesota Wild made use of the waiver wire today by claiming Detroit Red Wings forward Teemu Pulkkinen. The 24-year-old Finland native was the victim of Detroit’s logjam at the forward position and Minnesota is the gleeful recipient of their misfortune.

    This move is a lifeline of sorts for the Wild organization. This past preseason was highlighted by guys failing to claim spots that were ripe for the taking. That lack of assertiveness left Minnesota in an awkward position. Either they could plug those holes with less than ideal skaters (Zac Dalpe) or forego crucial development time and force a young guy into a role he might not be ready for (Christoph Bertschy).

    Bringing in Pulkkinen has already removed that conundrum from the equation, as we have already seen with Bertschy being sent to Iowa and Dalpe getting the honor of being the Wild’s honorable 13th forward. But while it does solve one riddle, it presents a new one. Where will Pulkkinen play?

    The obvious assumption is to put him in the Bertschy sized hole on the fourth line. By doing that it would give head coach Bruce Boudreau something that he has wanted since accepting the job: a fourth line that can be more than just fresh bodies on the ice.  

    It’s certainly a tantalizing idea. For years’ Wild fans have witnessed the headaches that a “gritty” fourth line brings to the team. Icing a fourth line of Pulkkinen, Joel Eriksson Ek and Jason Zucker would be a far cry from repeating that process. Their goal wouldn’t be to grind down the opposition. It would be to outclass them.

    The trio have the skill set to accomplish that lofty goal. Zucker, who I highlighted last week, is one of the most electrifying skaters on the Wild roster when given the chance. Eriksson Ek might be a rookie, but his ability to already play a sound two-way game at the age of 19 makes him a unique pivot with room to grow. And then you have Pulkkinen who is two years removed from averaging 1.33 points per game in the AHL as a 23-year-old. It’s hard to imagine this trio not being a highly effective offensive fourth line.  

    Of course there would be some questionable aspects to this fourth line as well. Mainly regarding their lack of defensive capabilities. While Eriksson Ek might prove to be wise beyond his years, placing him between two forwards who are not considered to be very good in their own zone could be a disaster in waiting. It’s kind of hard to score when the puck is always in your defensive zone after all.

    The good news is that there is more than one option when it comes to finding Pulkkinen a home. Perhaps he would be more comfortable skating alongside two fellow Finns in Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund.

    I touched on this a few weeks ago, but the duo of Koivu and Granlund aren’t known for their willingness to shoot. If they want any amount of offensive success, they need someone who is willing to pepper the net. Luckily enough, Pulkkinen is that kind of guy.

    While it may be a sample size, Pulkkinen’s time with the Detroit Red Wings over the past few seasons have produced some promising underlying numbers. In 70 career NHL games he has averaged 17.93 shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-v-5 and 8.63 shots per 60 minutes. By comparison, Zach Parise, the Wild’s most fervent shooter, posted 15.38 shot attempts per 60 minutes and 9.46 shots. It hasn’t led to a high point total, with Pulkkinen posting just 20 points those 70 games, but it does give reason to be hopeful for the future.

    On the surface it seems like a perfect fit for all involved. Koivu would be allowed to focus on his two-way game, Granlund would have a friend who could finish his set-ups and Pulkkinen would be fed plenty of shots from around the ice.

    Will Bruce Boudreau be willing to give Pulkkinen that opportunity right away? We’ll find out when the Wild take the ice on Thursday night. But one thing is for certain, Minnesota should be thanking the hockey Gods for the fortune they have been given on the eve of the regular season. 

    Stats courtesy of Corsica.

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