Midway through the second period of the Islanders' prospects camp scrimmage at Barclays Center, Ryan Pulock found himself along the left wing boards, the puck on his stick and a defender on his hip.
With two, maybe three strides, the 15th pick in the 2013 draft freed himself and was now looking to create. Pulock carried the puck behind the net, then backhanded a pass to a teammate in front, generating murmurs of appreciation from the crowd of 6,311.
On a night and in a place that was built on showcasing the future of the franchise, it was wholly fitting that Pulock took center stage. As the Islanders embark on the embryonic stages of their Brooklyn era, the Dauphin, Manitoba, native may find himself in the one place he always dreamed about playing:
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The National Hockey League.
"I have a chance," Pulock told Metro after being asked if he believes he will be an Islander this season. "I have to finish off summer, get in good shape and get stronger, come to [training] camp and do what I do [well, while] continuing to work on the defensive side. I think [I] have enough offensive ability to play, it's just a matter of if I can be a complete, two-way player."
In the aftermath of a 2014-15 season that saw the Islanders bid adieu to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum by recording 101 points in the regular season before losing to Washington in an intensely physical Metropolitan Division semifinal series, general manager Garth Snow essentially decided to stand pat; his only outside addition was signing backup goaltender to a two-year deal worth $3million.Internally, Snow re-signed RFA defenseman Thomas Hickey (three years, $6.6 million) and RFA center Anders Lee (four years, $15 million).
Snow's rationale for not shopping on the free agent market: There is enough talent stockpiled within the Islanders' system to fill holes in the lineup.
"We feel that we've built a team through the draft," Snow said prior to the scrimmage at Barclays. "Our scouting staff has done a tremendous job. You can look back to the Nick Leddy deal. If we didn't draft well, we wouldn't have that piece to trade for a player like Nick Leddy."
It seems likely that there may only be one NHL roster opening when the Islanders open training camp in September. The forward corps returns intact outside of RFA Brock Nelson, who does not yet have a deal in place. Both goaltending positions seem to be spoken for.
The only area in which a job may be available appears to be on defense. The top pairing of Leddy and Johnny Boychuk are set. Travis Hamonic will make up one half of the second defensive pair, while Hickey, Calvin de Haan are likely regulars. So that leaves one job for a second or third pairing defenseman.
Enter Pulock, a puck-moving defenseman who spent last season with the Islanders' AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. With the Sound Tigers, he put up a slash line of 17-12-29 in 54 games before being called up by the Islanders to be a Black Ace during the Capitals series.
While Pulock's skill sets seem to be an obvious fit for the Islanders, Snow didn't tip his hand one way or the otherwhen asked if he wanted Pulock and fellow defenseman Scott Mayfield to make the team.
"We'll look at it in training camp," Snow said. "Their performance will dictate whether or not they're Islanders. That's the fun thing about games like this for Ryan Pulock: Have a chance to impress our coaches that are going to be watching the games.
"It's a good problem to have, to have good, young players pushing veteran players."