Three On The Bubble


It’s the weekend, so I thought I’d mull over something that’s been floating around the back of my head over the past few weeks – Flames drafting, and a trio of 2012 picks that need to be signed before June 1. Will they get signed? And why would that happen (or not)?

The 2012 NHL Draft produced Mark Jankowski (21st), Patrick Sieloff (42nd), Jon Gillies (75th), Brett Kulak (105th), Ryan Culkin (124th), Coda Gordon (165th) and Matthew Deblouw (186th). Jankowski, Gillies and Deblouw are college players. Sieloff has already been signed. That leaves the Flames management team to make decisions on what to do with Kulak, Culkin and Gordon.



Coda Gordon was Calgary’s sixth round pick,165th overall, in the 2012 Draft. He’s played the entirety of his junior career with the Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos. Based on his WHL proximity and the fact he’s in the same conference as the Hitmen, the Flames get to see him quite a bit.

During Gordon’s WHL career, the team has been “okay.” They missed the playoffs during his draft year and lost in the first round during his Draft+1 year. This season they’re leading their division, but their division is also markedly worse than the other Eastern Conference division (which has Calgary, Edmonton and Medicine Hat), so they’re really still a middle-of-the-road WHL squad.

Season GP Points PPG NHLE Team Share
2011-12 (Draft) 66 53 0.803 19.8 24.5%
2012-13 70 59 0.842 20.7 28.6%
2013-14 44 53 1.204 29.6 27.9%

In terms of progression, you could argue that Gordon has made a leap this year in terms of scoring. He has, for sure, but he’s also one of the team’s older players and he’s getting top minutes. The team as a whole is also scoring more, and his team share (percentage of team goals he gets a point on) hasn’t really moved that much since he was drafted. 

And the jury’s out on Gordon as a team difference-maker. In his draft year, he had 1 game-winner. The next year? 2. This season? 3. Compare that with Michael Ferland, Calgary’s 2010 fifth rounder, who had 11 game-winners in his Draft+2 season. They play different styles, but I quite like Ferland as a comparator, in that he’s a late-round project that the Flames signed because of a few factors – size, for one, but he had a good offensive touch.

Season GP Points PPG NHLE Team Share
2009-10 (Draft) 61 28 0.459 11.3 8.7%
2010-11 56 56 1.000 24.6 19.9%
2011-12 68 96 1.411 34.7 35.1%

Ferland was a depth guy when he was drafted, and you can really see a steady (if not HUGE) progression in his numbers. He went from being a passenger to being a difference-maker as he matured. Heck, those Draft+2 numbers are downright dominant, and the Flames signed him before Christmas.

The lack of dominance and lack of progression with Gordon are what give me a bit of pause in signing him. Especially when the team will have guys like Josh Jooris, Ben Hanowski, Corban Knight and Turner Elson as second-year pros, and potentially guys like Emile Poirier, Johnny Gaudreau, Kenny Agostino and Bill Arnold as first-years, adding what’s essentially a second Turner Elson seems questionable.



Ryan Culkin was Calgary’s fifth rounder, 124th overall, in the 2012 Draft, acquired with a pick the team received in the trade that brought Karri Ramo to town. He’s played primarily with the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts, though he was traded before the Q’s trade deadline this year to the Drummondville Voltigeurs.

The Remparts have been one of the Q’s better teams during Culkin’s tenure, while the Voltigeurs are about as good as them this season. He’s played in two playoff rounds in every junior season he’s had.

Season GP Points PPG NHLE Team Share
2011-12 (Draft) 60 25 0.416 10.3 9.1%
2012-13 67 45 0.672 16.5 18.7%
2013-14 51 43 0.843 20.7 25.2%/17.1%

Lots of progression here, although it’s noteworthy that his production HAS taken a bit of a downturn in a different system in Drummondville. Culkin’s in his over-age year and was Quebec’s captain before getting traded – albeit for Drummondville’s captain. Given that the Remparts were always quite good, it’s hard to determine how much of his numbers are him and what portion is merely his position on his club. Culkin was eligible to play in the AHL this year by virtue of his December birthday, but after a decent but unspectacular training camp he wasn’t signed and returned to junior. Given how many defenders the Heat have right now, there’s a good chance he would’ve gotten lost in the shuffle down there.

He’s a left-handed shooter and more of a finesse player than a banger. I’m on the fence about Culkin, if only because none of his numbers scream dominance, and even his power-play numbers haven’t up-ticked a heck of a lot – he had 3 PPG in each of the last two seasons. His game-winning goals total in junior is three.



Brett Kulak was Calgary’s fourth rounder, 105th overall, in the 2012 Draft. He’s played the entirety of his junior career with the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants. He’s seen quite a bit by the Flames, even though he’s in the opposite conference as the Calgary Hitmen.

Kulak’s been both the victim and beneficiary of a rebuilding Vancouver Giants club. They lost in the first round in his draft year and were downright awful in his Draft+1 year. That means that he’s largely had very little help, but he’s also gotten to play a TON in all kinds of situations. He’s been on his team’s top pairing for the past two years, and when I spoke with him last year, he noted that his situation – top pairing on a bad team – was great for a defender to learn. Even if he got burnt, they had to throw him back out there. Like Culkin, he’s not a crasher-and-banger and relies on speed, positioning and finesse for his effectiveness.

Offensively, though, he’s really made a leap forward this season.

Season GP Points PPG NHLE Team Share
2011-12 (Draft) 72 24 0.333 8.2 9.4%
2012-13 72 44 0.611 15.0 22.3%
2013-14 57 51 0.895 22.1 26.7%

I’m a bit on the fence regarding Kulak. Justin’s NHLE updates have pointed out that he gets a fair amount of his points on the power-play – although his gradual progression in PPG suggests he can execute well when given time. I’m inclined to lean towards signing him, if only because Abbotsford has just burnt through defenders this season and they’ll need some depth – and with James Martin’s deal coming off the books this year, you can probably take a gamble on a potential depth guy like Kulak that could turn into something. The reason I’m leaning towards signing is because there’s a steady progression from year-to-year that does suggest that he’s improving. The downside is that he, too, is a left-shooting defender, and Calgary literally has a million of those.


The Flames probably sign one of these three guys. Maybe none of ’em.

The organization already has a large amount of guys turning pro – Gaudreau, Arnold, Agostino, Poirier among them – and an Abbotsford Heat roster that will be chock-full of guys in their early-20s. I’m inclined to sign Kulak of these three guys, but none of the trio are an absolute dominant force in junior, which is probably why they haven’t been signed as of yet.

  • T&A4Flames

    All three were late round picks and all have, at least, slightly increased their production from their draft year. Late round picks are projects. Could we not sign them and have them all battle for time in the A? The rest go to the E.

    • BurningSensation

      Doesn’t it become a question of the contract limit? When there are only so many (50?) slots available, quality control on who gets a slot is required.

      I also agree that Deblouw is likely gone.

    • BurningSensation

      I did some quick googling and nothing obvious about an injury came up. He only has a handful of points in 15 games this year, and is just half as productive as the previous year.

      He did suffer from a ruptured spleen in his career, but I think that was earlier on and wouldn’t explain his current struggles (though it definitely would if it were more recent).

      Given he was never considered to have all that high a ceiling (energy line guy) anyway, I doubt he gets kept around.

  • BurningSensation

    @Ryan Pike

    Nice review!

    Would you prefer to keep Coda Gordon or Turner Elson? (Personally, I prefer Gordon) They do overlap in terms of skillset, risk and projectability.

    I was initially inclined to sign both Kuak and Culkin, but you have me almost convinced it should just be Kulak.

  • If I am being honest with myself here although I like both Kulak and Culkin because they are not picks made under Brian Burke my guess is Culkin will be gone, Gordon will be gone and Kulak might get an AHL only offer of 1 year with the a handshake agreement that if he performs well they’ll agree to a 2-way deal after. It’s really a no risk for the Flames that way. Like Ryan said it can’t hurt to have some defensive depth given the amount of injuries Abby has had there this year throughout the course of the year. Kulak is a project and there’s a small chance he’s a later bloomer and gives you something once it mentally clicks kinda like Giordano. If it doesn’t. You don’t have to sign him to a 2-way deal and can walk away.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Ryan, I think there is an error in your point-per-game calculation for Culkin for this season. Seems to me he is scoring at 1.19 ppg? Would this affect the NHLE also then? And maybe your assessment of him?

  • Colin.S

    I think Gordon is not signed but the other two are given Contracts. I know the Heats blue line is a bit of a log jam right now but Bilins, D. Smith, Cundari, Martin and Breen are all either UFAs or RFAs. As well I think the Flames now have control of their ECHL team so that could open a spot for them.

  • T&A4Flames

    The more I think about it, the more I think both Kulak and Culkin need to get signed. Even if it’s for 1 year. Given our lack of true young puck moving prospects, I don’t think we can afford to not, at least, give these a chance to see what they can do at a more skilled level. They have to make decisions on guys like Cundari and Billins, but whatever CGY can do keep these guys in the organization for at least a year.

    • Colin.S

      They have to be signed to standard ELC deals I believe, which are 3 years, if we don’t sign them I don’t know the rules if they go through the draft(if they don’t get drafted again that is) and we sign them after they go through again. I don’t know if we can just do a single year deal?

  • Im sure Culkin and Kulak will get a contract. Gordon? Doesn’t strike me as prospect of interest. His output isn’t NHL caliber and he doesn’t have any sort of outstanding ability or tool that would push him to the front of the line.

  • jeremywilhelm

    I also think Kulak and Culkin. This is a team with limited talent and Culkin has shown significant improvement. Culkin is also vey highly regarded by his old coach Patrick Roy. I don’t want to give a team lie the Avs any more young good talent then they already have!

  • Parallex

    For me Culkin & Kulak both get contracts. The only blueline guys on the heat that have contracts for next year are Sieloff, Ramage & Wotherspoon (and O’Brien if you want to count him, I think he’ll be elsewhere)… everyone else (Smith, Breen, Martin, Billins, Cundari) all have expiring contracts. I see no reason not to give those two a shot.

    As for Gordon… I don’t think he’s got NHL tools and the Heat won’t be hard up for forwards so I’d cut bait on him.

    • Colin.S

      I really think Granlund is going to be NHL ready as early as next year. I think he is going to turn a lot of heads and surprise in training camp! Like you I would like him to be called up and play a few games before the season ends! Same can be said for Rhino!

      • Parallex

        I agree, Granlund should have been given some ice time when he was called up in December. I hope we see him for a handful of games before the end of the season so he can have a taste of the NHL and the same could be said for Knight as well. What I don’t want to see is him up here sitting on the bench and what I would really like to see happen is him have his five or so games and then go back to Abbie and have a long playoff run. It seems that the Heat have a good line going down there with Granlund (skill), Rhino(sound two way player-he has improved a great deal this year) and Bjones(a big bodied two way player); in many ways how I would like to see the Flames build and roll 4 lines.

  • jeremywilhelm

    The Flames as an organization only have 27 players under contract for next year and that includes McG and O’B. 16 forwards, 10 defenders and 1 goalie. They have 12 RFA to decide what to do with, now we are at 39(if we resign everyone); add the 3 NCAA players who are likely turning pro (Arnold, Augostino and Johnny) and we are at 42 and that is still not enough to ice both teams. So the next few months for Burke will be busy and it will be interesting to see what gets done.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Sign the D-men, because the Flames are desperate for defence prospects and need a diamond in the rough.

    Otherwise, I wouldn’t sign any of them. Nothing personal, but I’d lay money that none of these guys plays 200 games in the show.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Anyone know what Burke’s history is, with regard to trading prospects? With the log jam of defensemen in Abby, I wonder if the GM starts to deal for other needs, or uses some of the extra pieces as part of a package at the trade deadline.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    THe Flames have 5 NHL defencemen signed to contracts next year; Gio, TJB,Wides, Russell and Smid.(6 if you want to be nice to O’B)and none of the guys in the AHL or CHL are going to be ready for the NHL at the start of next year.(and maybe not at the end)They will either trade for or sign two new defenders unless they resign Butler. On the farm they will likely have Billins, Ramage , Witherspoon, Sieloff, Kanzig and Roy. I don’t see them spending anymore time on Breen or Smith. They will need to decide on Cundari. Keeping both Kulak and Culkin are good bets as the AHL 7/8 defencemen. Up front I’m not sure who Gordan would be able to beat out. We will likely have back the following: Granlund, Knight, Ferland, Hankowski,Rhino and the add Poirier, Johny, Arnold, Agostino, Jooris,Klimchuk, plus who we draft. Add the AHL vets and is there really room for him. I suspect he will not get signed.

        • ChinookArchYYC

          So if Roy gets signed he can play for the Heat, Kanzig will then return to CHL team then, so even more of a reason to either resign Cundari or both Kulak and Culkin. Am I correct that Poirier would be free to bounc between the Heat and Flames depending how he plays. Could he also be sent back to the Q?

  • prendrefeu

    Those Finland jerseys look pretty awesome. I dig the ‘super graphics’ style for the flag… a Canada version would be incred, but I suppose they went for the more ‘subdued’ style like the US… which is a load of feces.