Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman Ryan Pulock is tied for the Western Hockey League scoring lead with nine points and leads the WHL with a plus/minus of +10. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Ryan Pulock has a lot on his plate these days, and very little of it has to do with planning for his birthday this weekend.
The Grandview native is the captain of the Brandon Wheat Kings and the lynchpin to the team’s surprising 4-1-0-0 start. He entered Thursday as the top-scoring defenceman in the Western Hockey League (in fact his nine points, including two goals, was tied for first among all players), the WHL leader in plus/minus (+10) and he’s a top prospect for next year’s National Hockey League Entry Draft.
All the attention and pressure could get to anyone, never mind a teenager who doesn’t turn 18 until Saturday. Good thing for the Wheat Kings that Pulock has his head screwed on straight.
"I think he’s going to tackle this year like any other year," Wheat Kings head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk said. "He’s a well-grounded person. … I’m sure that he’s gonna be aware of the situation, be aware of what’s happening for him this year, but I think that he’s got a good head on his shoulders."
Pulock’s trademark poise will get a test tonight when the Wheat Kings host the Portland Winterhawks, who boast another one of the top talents available for next year’s draft in defenceman Seth Jones. Both players were given the top grade by NHL Central Scouting in its preliminary rankings. Independent scouting service Redline Report projects Jones as the top pick for the draft, with Pulock seventh.
Westman Place will be the place to be for those in the scouting business tonight, but Pulock is taking the buzz in stride, while not ignoring it completely.
"I think it’s pretty exciting that there’s a lot of talk about me for (the NHL draft)," he said. "(Being drafted is) definitely kind of a dream I’ve had since I started hockey and it’s neat that it’s kinda in my hands to do what I want to do with it. I think it’s a real exciting year for me and I think I’m going to try to use that excitement to my advantage."
The Wheat Kings brass is thrilled by the work Pulock did to prepare for this season. He spent the summer training in Brandon, packing on 10 pounds of muscle, and now carries a sturdy 211 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame.
Despite the extra weight, he’s appeared as agile as ever this season, and he certainly hasn’t lost anything off of a blistering slap shot that is the bane of any opposing forward who dares to step in front of it.
All told, you have a player that Gylywoychuk trusts on the ice in any situation.
"He plays both specialty teams, he’s good defending against top lines pretty much since Day 1," the coach said. "He’s just one of those players who was a gifted young man who loves to play the game. You add his natural talent, you add his dedication, you add his maturity all together and then you add how bad he just wants to play hockey. The thing I love about Puly is that he just wants to play."
Those same traits were apparent in Pulock two seasons ago when he entered the WHL as a surprisingly-polished rookie, considering he was only a seventh-round pick in the WHL Bantam Draft.
Pulock made the most of his opportunities as a rookie on a young Brandon blue-line, setting team records for a 16-year-old defenceman with 42 points in 63 games and quickly establishing himself as one of the team’s cornerstones for the future.
"I think it was a great year for me to start in the league," said Pulock, who matured into an Eastern Conference all-star last season.
"We had a lot of young D-men and it was basically whoever wanted to step up and fill the roles, (the opportunity) was there to do that, and I feel that I did that pretty well."
While Pulock was fortunate to arrive in Brandon at just the right time, and he credits the help the coaches have given him, it’s his own effort that has pushed him into the ranks of elite prospects for next year’s draft.
He admits that five years ago he never would have expected to be in the position he finds himself in today, so he’s not about to give up on his recipe for success.
"I wasn’t too well known growing up but I think it’s the hard work that got me to where I am and I think I’ve gotta keep working on that, keep working every day to get better," he said. "And if I don’t do that, then I’m not going to improve. And to keep taking the next step in the hockey world, you’ve definitely got to keep improving."
ONE-TIMERS: Wheat King season ticket sales have reached 2,547 as of Thursday afternoon.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 5, 2012