The NHL is still seeking a corporate sponsor for its Alliteration Award, but The Post has leaned that is has been won this year by the Islanders’ Pelech-Pulock Pair.
And no, none of that is technically true (well, it is not true at all), but that does nothing to diminish the importance of the Adam Pelech-Ryan Pulock pair as their team entered Thursday’s Game 3 of the Cup semifinals against the Lightning at the Coliseum.
The emergence of the P-men as Barry Trotz’s primary matchup pair over the coach’s three years on the job not only has solidified the blue line, but provides an inkling of his approach to lineup construction and his method of dealing with young players with upside.
“When I got here I didn’t know much about either one of them in terms of their game,” said Trotz, who joined forces with then-recently hired president-general manager Lou Lamoriello in June 2018. “I felt we were in a little bit of a transitional period, where so much had been relied upon a [Nick] Leddy-[Johnny] Boychuk combination and if we were going to go anywhere we were going to have to get our younger players to take more of a piece of the overall pie.”
Leddy came to the Islanders a week before the start of 2014-15 from the Blackhawks, with whom he had won the Cup in 2013. The club also acquired Boychuk, a 2011 Cup-winner with the Bruins, on the same day in twin moves pulled off by then-GM Garth Snow. The defensemen joined forces to become the club’s top pair.
While Leddy remains on the left side of the blue on the second pair with partner Scott Mayfield, a second-round, 34th-overall selection in 2011 who has played 223 games in the NHL, Boychuk was forced to step away from playing due to the effects of an eye injury he sustained late in 2019-20.
Meanwhile, Pelech was drafted out of Erie of the OHL — where he played with Connor McDavid — in the third round and with the 65th selection of the 2012 entry draft. A year later, Pulock was a first-round, 15th-overall selection out of Brandon of the WHL. Both players served apprenticeships in the AHL, Pelech playing 105 games with Bridgeport and Pulock, 163.
They both earned spots under Trotz for 2018-19, emerging late that season as the matchup pair.
“Early in camp I talked to them about trying to move them up in the lineup a bit, would they be ready for it, we talked about what their strengths and weaknesses were, and we slowly started to do that,” the coach said in advance of the match that would break the 1-1 series tie. “There was a point where we did it a little too quickly for them and had to pull them back.
“We would pull them back and give them the time to get their confidence back or getting some success and then we’d give them a little more and they’d get better and more comfortable. Now they have become a really reliable pair.”
Trotz wants to have Pelech-Pulock on as much as possible against Tampa Bay’s supercharged Ondrej Palat-Brayden Point-Nikita Kucherov first line just as he did in the second round against the Bruins’ imposing Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak top unit and in the opening series against Pittsburgh’s top unit centered by Sidney Crosby.
Game 2 was a bit of a struggle, with Pelech harried into uncharacteristic mistakes on controlled breakouts that ultimately resulted in a pair of Tampa Bay second-period goals, But there was no reason not to expect a return to form at the Coliseum.
“[Pelech and Pulock] can contribute offensively and can defend as well as any two guys in the league and have an effect on the overall game,” the coach said. “So this is a normal development of two really smart young players and giving the confidence and showing them the ice for them to have a big effect on a game.
“Everyone has their own schedule and time frame to feel comfortable with responsibility so I say all the time that it’s no different with any young player. We’re at an age where they come out of junior and they’ve got to do this and that and it’s so unfair to the kids these days with expectations.
“A kid goes with the first- or second-overall pick and should have all these points and should dominate the league. It is hard to dominate this league and especially when you’re in the transition from adolescent to adult when testing NHL veterans on a nightly basis,” Trotz said. “It’s so unfair that we expect that from these young players.
“There are only a few Connor McDavid’s who can do it right away. The rest have a different time frame but can be really good players, and that’s what we saw in Pelech and Pulock.”