Should Ryan Culkin Go Pro?

 

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?

CONCLUSION

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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  • Truculence

    The Flames look like they will have 45 contracts including Sieloff and Monahan.

    Kipper is gonna retire and Howse’s may be terminated.

    Not to mention the players that will likely be traded at the deadline.

    We have contract flexibilty.

    There is plenty of room to sign Culkin but only if he is ready.

    There will also be room to sign Guadreau, Agostino and Arnold when the college year ends.

    No matter what happens with Monahan, Sieloff and Culkin doesnt overly matter. Having 43-46 contracts on the books before the trade deadline is pretty good.

  • The Last Big Bear

    I vote we leave him in the wilderness for 30 days, with nothing but a cloak and spear to help him survive. If he returns alive, sign him to an ELC and give him a spot on the Flames.

  • supra steve

    How awsome is this for a problem to have? Especially from a 5th rounder picked up just over a year ago. Precisely why I have chosen to cut the team some slack on picks like Janko and Keegan the Destroyer, and take a wait and see position.

  • 24% body fat

    I got trashed, and rightfully so; as I was out to get trashed on the comment, for say Sven maxes out at 38 points this year. Most projections from tsn, sporting news, sportsnet etc all have him in the 35-40 points. I was not far off.

    That being said the Sven Goal sign will max out as
    SVENNNNN! Three will be empty netters.

    I will start the trashes off.

  • SmellOfVictory

    I think he could go either way; I think his puck-moving abilities bring an important transitional game to the table that guys like Ramage, Breen, and probably MacKenzie aren’t going to be as good with. He’s likely more offensively-oriented than Wotherspoon, as well.*

    Given that, he might be a good asset on the Heat in terms of the PP and as a #4-5 guy at even strength. He’s also older, and from what I’ve heard, more polished than Sieloff; if the choice was between either of the two going back to Junior, I’d personally vote Sieloff.

    *Massive caveat in that a lot of his offence seemed to depend on Grigorenko just destroying the QMJHL while he was down there, so I suppose some of that should be taken with a grain of salt.

  • Parallex

    Concur. I’m strongly against rushing any prospects to the big leagues (I would return each and every single one of our junior eligible players to the junior level). Right now the contract flexability will serve the Flames better and hopefully later on the extra years will produce a more fully formed (and better value/$) professional player.