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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
SUM IT UP
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.