So far in this second round playoff series between the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning it’s been a battle of 2009 draft picks. John Tavares, the first overall pick in 2009 scored two points in the Islanders game one victory. Victor Hedman, the number two overall pick in 2009, also scored two points in the second game to lead the Lightning to a 4-1 victory. Both teams will be making adjustments for the next two games in Brooklyn and both players from the 2009 draft class will be leading their respective teams, as they should. However, another first rounder from that 2009 draft, 16th overall by Minnesota, that could tip the scale to the Islanders favor is Nick Leddy. During the regular season Leddy will get you anywhere between 35-40 points a year. The earlier part of his playoff career started when he was in Chicago playing behind defenseman like Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Seabrook was virtually a point per game while Keith put up 11 points in 19 games in the 2013-14 playoffs, leading them to the Eastern Conference Finals against Los Angeles. The year before, Keith led the Blackhawks defenseman with 13 points in 22 games in route to the Stanley Cup. Why am I just singling out Leddy as a potential series changer? Simple, Ryan Pulock.
Islanders rookie defenseman Ryan Pulock may return to the playoffs for game three Tuesday night in Brooklyn. So far in his brief playoff career, Pulock has three points in four games, including a power play goal and an assist. Adding Pulock’s offensive skills and wicked blast from the point may force Tampa Bay to make adjustments and give Leddy an opportunity to open up his offensive game that would allow him to drive to the net more and create any kind of scoring chance so the forwards finally get on the score sheet. The forwards could use all the help they can get as John Tavares, Frans Nielsen and Shane Prince are the only Islanders forwards with three goals or more. Everyone else has one. Leddy has 18 points in 69 total playoff games. That number is a bit skewed because he was not playing as much with the Blackhawks as he is with the Islanders. On the Island, Leddy is good for 8 points in 15 games. The bigger positive to that is only one point was on the power play. So infuse Pulock on the power play may allow Leddy to take the next overall step forward in his game during this years playoffs, just as Victor Hedman did last year to help the Lightning get to the Stanley Cup Finals.
So if some are scratching their heads and asking “Why didn’t you say, Pulock must shine?” It’s because Pulock’s sample is small being that he is only a rookie. Let’s face it, four games is not enough to judge what Ryan can do. If the Islanders don’t go on the powerplay, do we really know Pulock’s potential? Doesn’t matter because we know what Leddy can do five-on-five and all Pulock has to do is shoot that hard slap shot of his and cause Tampa to force their attention off Leddy and focus on Pulock. Leddy is certainly the better skater at this point and could be a real threat on the offensive side if he drives to the net and creates those opportunities. Pulock can also do that, but you want Leddy’s experience executing that for now, just like the Blackhawks wanted Seabrook to do it instead of Leddy.
Victor Hedman took a big step as a player in last years playoffs thanks to the Lightning signing defenseman Anton Stralman and he was able to elevate his game. When it came to the playoffs, he along with Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson helped the Tampa Bay Lightning go all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. This year for the Islanders we’ll see if Ryan Pulock helps Nick Leddy elevate his game, and along with John Tavares and Shane Prince, we’ll see if the Islanders can take the same journey. With Travis Hamonic potentially gone by the summer, the timing couldn’t be better for both Leddy and the Islanders.
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