Every year, the annual IIHF World Junior Championship tournament provides young hockey players with a great opportunity to show their wares against the best players from their age-group from throughout the world. It’s a great development tool and players as varied as Jarome Iginla, Roman Horak and Leland Irving have had the chance to represent their nations at the World Juniors.
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to take a look at the chances of the various Flames prospects vying for World Junior roster spots.
First up is Ryan Culkin.
WHO IS THIS GUY?
The fifth round draft pick of the Calgary Flames in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Ryan Culkin comes from Montreal and plays for the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL. Culkin is now in his third full season in the Q, after putting up 11 points in 40 games as a 16-year-old and 25 points in 60 games as a 17-year-old. Culkin has continued his progression this year, managing 17 points in 18 games so far.
As you can see from his year-to-year stats, Culkin has increase his points-per-game scoring rate each year he’s been in junior. He scored 0.275 points per game in 2010-11, 0.417 points per game in 2011-12 and an astounding 0.944 points per game in 2012-13. Granted, his scoring rate this year is probably not sustainable, but it’s a remarkable increase even if he back-slides back to a level closer to 0.800 or so.
IS HE ON THE RADAR?
Ryan Culkin hasn’t been to a Hockey Canada camp yet. That said, he played in both games of the Subway Super Series as part of Team QMJHL earlier this month. He didn’t look out of place playing with the top players in his league and he was really able to show off his skating and moblilty.
If you compare Culkin’s scoring pace to that of the players he’s fighting for jobs with, he’s competitive. Of the players on the three CHL Super Series teams, Culkin’s tenth in defensive scoring. That said, he’s competing for spots against guys that have been to prior Hockey Canada selection camps or that were on Team Canada for the summer challenge series against the Russians. Five of the players who’ve scored more than Culkin (Dougie Hamilton, Xavier Ouellet, Cody Ceci, Morgan Reilly and Adam Pelech) have already auditioned for Hockey Canada at one of these events, and it’s unlikely that Team Canada won’t invite Ryan Murray back after his performance at the World Juniors last year.
WHAT ARE HIS CHANCES?
Functionally-speaking, Hockey Canada tends to take two defensemen from each of the three Canadian Hockey League member leagues, and usually the seventh blueliner is taken from one of the leagues at random. Where Culkin benefits is that only Xavier Ouellet of QMJHL blueliners has established himself somewhat with Hockey Canada.
Culkin also has the benefit that he’s a very good offensive defender on a very good Quebec Remparts team. As long as Quebec is high on the CHL’s power rankings, Culkin will get a lot of attention from the hockey world. His resume is strong enough that he should at least get an invite to Hockey Canada’s selection camp in December.
However, the QMJHL (and the other leagues, for that matter) has a lot of defenders that could perform a similar role as Culkin on Team Canada, so it’s up to Culkin between now and mid-December to prove that he can perform that role better than the others. To do that, he’ll need to help the Remparts keep winning and hope that his plus/minus numbers stay as sparkling as his offensive numbers.
It’s a tall order, but it’s a hurdle that Culkin will have to leap over eventually, should he want to develop into a three-dimensional hockey player.
Culkin is In the mix, but not favorite.
It’s likely that Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Murphy return for Team Canada, but there are probably a half-dozen or more strong QMJHL blueliners (Xavier Ouellet, Culkin, Nikolas Brouillard, Dillon Fournier, James Melindy, Jimmy Oligny and others) fighting for a couple spots. There’s nothing about Culkin’s game that makes him stand out from that pack, but there’s also nothing yet that has dropped him from that group either.