(Patrick Johnston is a Canucks Army contributor and freelance journalist. He managed to catch up to the Vancouver Giants and Brett Kulak last week and asked him a few questions on FN’s behalf)
A player known for his hockey sense, both Flames and Vancouver Giants fans expect big things from 2012 fourth rounder Brett Kulak. He’s had a busy hockey year; first making the Giants, growing his game, playing in the prospects contest, being drafted by an NHL squad and then attending prospects’ camp this summer. Now it’s back to Vancouver for a second full season in the WHL.
Like any prospect on track to make the NHL, Brett Kulak’s coach expects a big step forward in his play.
"Brett’s gotta take that step this year – be the guy," Vancouver Giants coach Don Hay told FlamesNation this week. "A consistent level of play, not just any level of play, but keep it at a high level and push the game."
"He’s got really good vision with the puck and he’s go the confidence to move the puck out of tight areas, to find the open man," Hay said.
Originally from Sherwood Park, Kulak moved to Vancouver last season and immediately stepped into a full time role with the Giants. Playing every game for the G-men, Hay said it was an impressive "year of learning" for Kulak.
"He learned what it took to play and practice and to push himself to get better," Hay said.
"I expect him to be a player who is on our number one power play unit and be a player who moves up from defence to join the rush," he said.
Kulak said, initially, his off-ice transition that was as much of a challenge as anything.
"Coming into the city life, growing up on the farm, I wasn’t used to the city traffic. There’s no snow here either, so that’s different too," he said with a chuckle.
As for his on-ice experience, Kulak agreed with his coach’s assessment of his rookie WHL campaign, acknowledging that it was an eye-opening year for him. But Kulak adapted quickly, he said, although as a 17 year old coming into the WHL, it shouldn’t be surprising that initially he found battling 20 year-olds difficult.
"It was about feeling it out and getting used to the speed difference," he said. "I’ve been working on my strength – this summer I put on about ten pounds [of muscle] and hopefully I’ll put on ten more pounds in the next year."
"I’ve been working on general strength and also adding to my first three steps," he said.
And being partnered with Oilers prospect David Musil on the top defensive unit is a positive influence on his own game, Kulak said.
"You always know he’ll be back there to help you out," he said. "We talked with our coach and he’s supposed to be the more defensive guy. He’ll stay out and cover me a bit…we balance each other out pretty good."
Being drafted this summer and then attending the Flames’ prospects camp gave him a new benchmark to gauge himself against.
"I thought I played well there; there were 12 guys from the Abbotsford team, so I got to see the speed they play at there," he said. Knowing what sort of speed his future professional teammates play at is as much of a target as anything. Kulak noted it will push him to keep his own tempo up in the WHL this season.
"My goal this year is to be contributing to the team’s success. I want to be one of those guys that other teams have to watch."