Poirier vs. Culkin: A Brief Review

Last night provided a rare opportunity to see two recent Calgary Flames draft picks in their natural element – the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Thankfully, our buds at Sportsnet televised a contest between the Gatineau Olympiques and the Drummondville Voltigeurs, so I was able to get a rare chance to check out 2013 first round pick Emile Poirier of Gatineau and 2012 fifth round pick Ryan Culkin of Drummondville. (Well, I saw them both during pre-season, but this is them in their current level of play against guys their own age.)


Drummondville won in a shootout 6-5.

The first period had many, many penalities. Drummondville scored twice on the PP, but Gatineau got another goal by the end of the period and trailed 2-1 after 20. In the second, each team scored twice. In the third, Drummondville played a tight defensive game with a one-goal lead and scored with six minutes left to have a two-goal lead. Then they blew said two-goal lead, including giving up a goal with less than 10 seconds left in regulation.

It was a pretty entertaining, back-and-forth, playoff-style game. Lots of hitting, lots of after-the-whistle scrapping and lots and lots of special teams play.


Pretty decent.

Like I mentioned, the Olympiques spent a lot of the game on the penalty kill, and Poirier doesn’t play a lot on the PK, so he was minimized a bit early-on. Five-on-five, his speed is what sets him apart – he’s incredibly quick to get to top speed and he’s agile enough to stay onside via toe-drag on the blueline without losing speed. That’s fast.

He’s also undoubtedly the top offensive threat for Gatineau, which itself is a double-edged sword. On one hand, he constantly has guys feeding him the puck. On the other hand, it’s became painfully obvious to Drummondville that’s what the game-plan was, so when they were able to focus on Poirier, they were able to shut things down. It’s no coincidence that neither Poirier or Culkin were on for the first goal that Gatineau scored to bring things close, and that Culkin’s pairing was on at the end when it did get tied up by the second line. (Thumbs up to the commenters for noting that Culkin was a minus at the end.) Culkin’s pairing negated Poirier’s line, so it was up to Gatineau’s second line to out-play Drummondville’s second pairing. It worked, and so the Olympiques got a point from the game.

Poirier wasn’t really noticably defensively, but he never got burned by an offensive player or anything. He was never really in a position for defensive skill to be useful. I’d perhaps compare him to Mike Cammalleri in terms of his overal game, although he’s obviously bigger than Cammalleri and uses his size fairly well – there was a sequence on the PP where he kept the defender at bay merely with his size and then set up a scoring chance with a nice pass.

Poirier plays first line wing, the Cammalleri "rover" spot on the power-play (where they use a left-handed shooter on the right side for one-timers) and occasionally on the PK. He didn’t get onto the PK very much until later in the second period, so that may be a product of their regulars being tired-out – or a product of Gatineau trailing at that point. With usual linemate (and Montreal pick) Martin Reway out with an injury, Poirier’s primary linemates are Taylor Burke and Adam Stevens. Both are undrafted Nova Scotia boys, although Burke has been to a Phoenix rookie camp.

Poirier has an NHL contract for next season, but because he turns 20 before the end of 2014, he has the option of playing in the NHL, the AHL or the QMJHL next season.


Really good.

Offensively, Culkin had three points. He had two first-period assists on that extended man-advantage for Drummondville, and he acted as the puck distributor for the Voltigeurs PP. On both goals scored, he passed the puck to the left winger. On the 5-on-3, he passed left and then drove towards the net. One of the defenders cheated towards Culkin, expecting something, so the winger with the puck passed across the ice (through the seam opened by Culkin’s movement) and he one-timed it home. On the 5-on-4 goal, Culkin simply played pitch-and-catch with the right-winger until a seam opened on the left side, and a quick pass later it was 2-0. His second-period power-play goal was a product of puck movement and a screen. It also helps that on an extended 4-on-4 situation, he went for gigantic wild (large wind-up) slappers, and then merely laid a quick snap-shot towards the net on the shot that went in. Expectations are tricky.

Defensively, Culkin is a bit less amazing, but had some nice plays. I’d compare his deployment and general role on Drummondville to Jay Bouwmeester when he was in Calgary – he plays a lot of minutes against the other team’s best guys, and he tends to go for positonal play and stick-checking to negate the other team’s plays. He reads plays well, on one occasion breaking up a short-handed 2-on-1 led by Poirier by playing the pass and blocking the cross-ice pass with his skates, leading to a rush up the other end of the ice. He sometimes makes odd choices in his own end, though, such as trying for a clearing pass across the high slot rather than going boards or glass-and-out, which can backfire on him. With the puck in his own zone, he was a good enough skater to avoid most incoming forecheckers without much trouble.

Culkin plays on the top pairing for Drummondville, and also plays top minutes on their power-play and penalty kill. But given his age, draft status and previous junior performances, it’s not all that surprising. Plus, when a team trades their captain to get you, they probably want to play you a whole bunch. His primary defensive partner is new Drummondville captain Charles-David Beaudoin.

Culkin does not have an NHL deal for next season and is currently in the QMJHL as an over-ager (he’s 20). He must be signed by the Flames by June 1 or else they lose his rights. He’s likely good enough that somebody will sign him (he was born 15/12/1993, so he’s 16 days too old to re-enter the draft) and he’ll get a shot in the pros.

  • Colin.S

    I know it’s only 1 game, but can you explain why the heck Poirier already has over 100 PIMS!?!?! He’s already eclipsed last years 102 pims with about 20 games less. Sounds like he might have a nasty streak, which is okay by me.

      • T&A4Flames

        What would be wrong with having all 3 signed and allowing them to develop in the AHL and see who is the best? It’s not like we are overloaded with defensive prospects at this time.
        Culkin 6’1″ 190
        Roy 6’3 190
        Kulak 6’1 170

        I watched bits and pieces of this game, I found it choppy and difficult to watch with all penalties.

      • SmellOfVictory

        Between the three of them we’ll be lucky to see one turn into an NHL regular. Culkin seems like the weakest of the 3 to me, but I definitely think he should be held onto until we see what he and Kulak can do in the pros.

  • T&A4Flames

    I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t sign him, he is a good enough D-Man that if he doesn’t fit into the flames long term plans for whatever reason they can use him as trade bait. I say sign him to an ELC and see how he does in Abby, wouldn’t hurt especially since the Flames can afford to do so

  • SmellOfVictory

    “It’s no coincidence that neither Poirier or Culkin were on for the goals that Gatineau scored to tie things up”

    I may have read this wrong, but I was almost positive that Poirier took the initial shot that led to the tying goal. And I am 100% sure that the goal went off of Culkin’s skate and in.

    Both guys looked like solid players to me. Culkin really impressed me.

    Also, the QMJHL is a really loose brand of hockey. Fun to watch but I can see why it hasn’t produced as many NHL players recently.

  • SmellOfVictory

    I have no problems with Culkin getting an ELC at the end of the season. So long as Kulak and (maybe) Roy do as well (with Roy they can wait a bit).

    I do, however, still doubt Culkin’s upside. But at least he’s tracking upward.

    The lack of blueline talent is one reason I really hope they can get Julius Honka at the draft (probably with a late first acquired at the deadline, though if they’re lucky he might be there with their second rounder). Especially if their first pick is a forward (such as Sam Bennett or Leon Draisaitl–or Sam Reinhart, haha). Honka will be a stud. Whoever ultimately decides to “take a chance” on a small defenseman with his talent level will not regret it.

  • Lordmork

    RYAN…great in-depth article, my compliments to you! I would like to see more of these articles if possible…….and yes let’s get Culkin signed.

    It’s also great to see Poirier develop as touted by Feaster/Weisbrod. Unfortunately he is really our only return for J-Bo world class defenseman. Yes I’m still crying we didn’t also get Ty Rattie in that deal!!!!

  • Lordmork

    Wish I would have known about this game. A big advantage to season tickets to the Hitmen is the opportunity to see potential future Flames (whether already drafted like Roy, or potentially drafted this year like Draisatl). Saw Eric Roy on Friday with Brandon and he burned us with a goal. Played really well, looks like a potential second line D-man as a cap, or at least a 2nd PP pairing D-man. If Culkin and Kulak are similar to him, I’d be happy to see them all in the AHL next year.