New York Islanders

Following the New York Islanders’ 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals on Thursday night, fans took to social media to express their bewilderment at the decision not to call up highly touted defensive prospect Ryan Pulock.

By Justin Weiss

Ryan Pulock, 21, was selected in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft. While Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech both got tastes of the NHL, Pulock was forced to continue playing for Bridgeport of the American Hockey League.

Pelech played awfully well in five games, but was sidelined with what appears to be an undisclosed season-ending injury.

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Mayfield reaffirmed what others were saying about the physical side of his game, but skated poorly, prompting the Isles to send the lanky defenseman back down to the minors.

This would have seemingly opened the door for Pulock, a young defenseman often lauded for his offensive prowess and simple approach.

Instead, Pulock remained with the Sound Tigers, even after Calvin de Haan (who’s in the midst of a very solid season) suffered a day-to-day injury.

The question many fans posed to head coach Jack Capuano was simple: Why not give Pulock a shot?

The answer, it seems, is also quite simple: the New York Islanders are concerned about their future blueline.

As many will attest to, the Isles have had a little trouble developing their defensemen. With the exception of Travis Hamonic, the team hasn’t really developed a stud blueliner with Garth Snow at the helm of the team. (It should be noted that it isn’t entirely Snow’s responsibility to develop these youngbloods.)

So it should come as no surprise that the Isles are taking it slowly with Pulock.

But even more imminent is the need to replace Travis Hamonic following the 2015-16 season. While Hammer isn’t a free agent until the 2021 offseason, he has requested a trade due to personal reasons.

Marek Židlický, Brian Strait and Scott Mayfield are all impending free agents, and it’s doubtful that Snow will ink all — if any — to longterm deals.

So the Isles, with many potential holes on their blueline next season, are going to need someone to log quality minutes alongside Calvin de Haan every night. And while there will likely be plenty of external options available, it’s easier and friendlier to the cap if New York can immediately mold Pulock into a top-4 defenseman, something they weren’t able to do with Griffin Reinhart.

By keeping Pulock in Bridgeport, Snow and Capuano can ensure that Pulock will play top-line minutes and anchor a power play so that when he comes to the NHL, it’s a much easier transition (many have pointed fingers at the difficult transition of many players as a reason why the Isles have had such trouble developing defenseman).

“From the start of the year, there’s been huge improvement in his game,” Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson told Newsday’s Arthur Staple. “I feel like his injury last season [a shoulder injury that cost Pulock two months] set his game back a little, and coming into camp this year he wasn’t quite there yet. But since then it’s been steady improvement all year. He’s a true professional and he’s going to be a good NHL player, we all know that.”

Sure, Pulock is likely a much better player than Strait and Zidlicky. But by showing a little resolve, the Islanders are thinking about the present — and the future.

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Justin Weiss is a staff editor at Elite Sports New York, where he covers the New York Islanders and Brooklyn Cyclones. In 2016, he received a Quill Award for Freelance Journalism. He has written for the Long Island Herald, FanSided and YardBarker.