One of the more intriguing things about the upcoming training camp is the status of defensive prospect Ryan Culkin. Calgary’s fifth round choice in 2012, Culkin’s a December 1993 birthday – meaning he’s (a) an overager in the QMJHL and (b) eligible to play in the American Hockey League because he’s 20 before the year’s up. Moreover, Flames GM Jay Feaster noted that, based on his play at the Youngstars Tournament, Culkin could earn an NHL two-way deal.
But should the Flames sign Ryan Culkin and have him go pro? There’s several factors in play.
QUEBEC’S NEW COACH
When Ryan Culkin was drafted, one of the more interesting quirks was that he was coached by Patrick Roy. Roy had been coaching the Remparts since 2005, and has since moved onto the Colorado Avalanche. Roy was also apparently a pretty decent hockey player in his day, or so I’m told.
With Roy gone, the Remparts are now helmed by former Rimouski Oceanic GM Phillipe Boucher, who was a decent but not Roy-level NHLer who has never coached before. There’s no guarantee of success for the Remparts under the new regime, especially when compared to their old coach.
QUEBEC HAS FOUR OVER-AGERS
Under the CHL’s rules, each team gets three 20 year olds. The Remparts have four and have until October to choose who goes. The other three 1993-born players are winger Jason Houde (unsigned/undrafted, about 0.5 points per game), winger J.C. Campagna (unsigned/undrafted, about 0.5 points per game) and defender Dillon Donnelly, a 2011 seventh round pick by the Avalanche who wasn’t signed and just played 39 games last year.
If Quebec wanted to move someone, it’s probably not gonna be Culkin, although he’d garner them the most in the trade market. And he’s unlikely to lose playing time to any of the other defensemen, because he’s probably the best blueliner on his team.
Which leads to…
WHAT’S LEFT TO DO IN JUNIOR?
Okay, Culkin hasn’t won a championship and can’t be on the World Junior team. But he’s put up strong numbers on a strong junior team. He’s been protected by playing on a very good, well-coached team, but he still had 45 points last year, leading the Remparts in defensive scoring and was ninth in the QMJHL.
If the point of sending Culkin back to junior is to challenge him, great. Let him get some big ice-time and play in big games in the QMJHL while chasing a championship. But if he won’t have a good shot at a championship, why send him back to junior to kill time for a year if you think he’s ready.
WHERE DOES HE FIT IN ABBOTSFORD?
Okay, who’s gonna be in Abbotsford on the blueline? Well, probably Tyler Wotherspoon, Chad Billins, John Ramage, Mark Cundari, Chris Breen and Drew MacKenzie. Maybe Derek Smith or Patrick Sieloff, as well. That means there’s already seven or eight guys who are older than Culkin and have already either played pro or at the World Juniors. Here’s the rough depth chart:
- Cundari – Breen
- Wotherspoon – Billins
- Ramage – MacKenzie
- Smith? Sieloff? Culkin? Martin?
You could make a case that almost every other blueliner in Abbotsford will be better on opening night than Culkin. Only James Martin, if he’s in Abbotsford and not Alaska, would be considered a weaker defender at the time. Maybe.
WHY BURN ANOTHER PRO CONTRACT?
The Flames have 47 players under contract right now, including Sean Monahan and Patrick Sieloff, both of whom will have their deals slide if they play fewer than 10 games in the pros this year. Culkin would make it 48.
Granted, it’s year one of a rebuild, but do the Flames really want to burn their 48th pro deal on a barely 20-year-old blueliner who’s played zero games in the pros, or at the World Juniors, or at the Memorial Cup?
Considering everything altogether, I wouldn’t have Ryan Culkin turn pro. In junior, he’s guarateend a lot of ice time and top pairing responsiblities. Even if the Remparts aren’t all that great, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll get traded to a contender at the deadline and have a chance at a Memorial Cup.
And if not, at least he won’t get lost in the shuffle in Abbotsford. Culkin is still very much in his formative years as a player and while he’s played well as a junior, it’s not like he has completely dominated his peers and has nothing left to learn at the lower levels. A lot of ice time agains teens is probably preferable at this stage of his development versus scratches and bottom-pairing time against AHLers.
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