By Peter Schwartz
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Ryan Pulock has already experienced a taste of what the Stanley Cup playoffs are like after netting a goal and adding two assists over six games during the Islanders' run to the second round last spring.
However, with him seemingly on the cusp of securing a full-time role in the NHL, an injury back in October led to Pulock being sidelined for an extended period of time. Once recovered, he found himself back with AHL Bridgeport.
Let's just say he's making the most of his time down there.
The 22-year-old blueliner has been a big part of the Sound Tigers winning seven straight games and 15 of their last 16 to move into third place in the Atlantic Division.
"It feels good to help the team win," Pulock told WFAN.com during a recent phone conversation. "As of late, we've been playing really good hockey and I think that helps each other individually as well."
With a record of 33-16-1 and owner of 68 points, Bridgeport is roaring towards the Calder Cup playoffs. Pulock notched two assists in Sunday's 5-1 win over the Hershey Bears, and is just one of many Sound Tigers that have been contributing.
With the parent club about to embark on a nine-game road trip, Islanders fans can get a glimpse of the future this weekend when Pulock and the Sound Tigers host Providence on Saturday and then Hershey on Sunday.
Pulock has played in a total of 31 games this season, including one with the Islanders, and has racked up 10 goals and 14 assists. Fellow top prospect Josh Ho-Sang has three goals and five assists in his last three games for the Sound Tigers, and banished goaltender Jarsolav Halak, who may or may not be part of the Isles' plans going forward, has won 12 straight games, a clear sign that he has again found his game.
For Pulock and the rest of the Sound Tigers, these are fun times.
"I've been getting more and more confident and I think that's just with playing and being in a groove here," said Pulock, who was selected 15th overall by the Islanders in the 2013 Entry Draft. "It also helps that the other players around me are playing really good hockey, too."
Things weren't working out too well for Pulock earlier in the season. He was assigned to Bridgeport to start the 2016-17 season and had a point in two games before he was recalled by the Islanders. That promotion didn't last very long as he suffered a broken foot while blocking a shot just five shifts into his first game on Oct. 21 against Arizona.
He was sidelined until Nov. 29, when he was activated off of injured reserve and sent to Bridgeport. He also missed a few games in January with a wrist injury, but now he is healthy and a big reason why the Sound Tigers have their sights set on a run at a championship.
"It has been nice playing some important games here down the stretch," Pulock said. "The way guys are playing, it makes it easy and it's fun to go out there and win hockey games every night."
While Pulock is focused on improving his game in the AHL and doing his part to keep the Sound Tigers rolling, he has been keeping tabs on how the big club has been doing. With the Islanders making a push for a postseason berth, Pulock said he makes it his business to catch some games here and there on television.
"I try to watch as many games as I can," Pulock said. "I'm always trying to get better down here and wait for that call. Obviously the Islanders are in a bit of a playoff hunt right now. They're pushing to find themselves in there, so I definitely follow that."
With Travis Hamonic still out of action due to an upper-body injury suffered back in November, the Isles have recalled Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield from Bridgeport to try and fill the void, but Pulock has remained in the AHL. There's still plenty of hockey left in this season, so Pulock is hopeful that he'll get his call as well. He said while he waits he is going about his business and doing whatever he can to convince the Islanders that he can be an asset.
"I obviously want to play in the NHL as soon as I can," said Pulock, who once starred for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League. "I just focus on my job every day and when that call comes, it's going to be exciting. I think my style of game, being more of an offensive guy, I can really help produce points and help win games that way."
While he dreams of one day helping the Islanders win a Stanley Cup, Pulock is determined to do what he can to help the Sound Tigers capture the Calder Cup this season. With the way Bridgeport is playing right now, anyone associated with the Islanders organization has to be excited about what lies ahead. Having experienced a playoff series win with the Islanders, Pulock is hoping for more of the same and then some with the Sound Tigers.
"That would be a lot of fun," Pulock said. "It doesn't really matter what league you're in, whether it be junior, AHL, or NHL. I think it's an exciting time right now. We still have a lot of games left, but if we continue to play the way we're playing, I think we'll be all right. So it's going to be an exciting couple of months."
These are certainly exciting times for Pulock. The Sound Tigers are the hottest team in the AHL and have to be considered one of the teams to beat in the playoffs. But with the way he's playing right now, Pulock had better keep that phone on because the Islanders could definitely call.
Don't forget to follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @rpulock and @TheSoundTigers
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