The 2014 Flames Fifteen – #15: Ryan Culkin

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Via the NHL

Ryan Culkin is now a professional hockey player – and he makes his first appearance in the ranks of Calgary’s top-15 prospects, coming in at 15. The defenseman impressed in his final season of QMJHL action, but how will he do in the pros?

Culkin, who is currently listed at 6’2″ and about 200 pounds, was drafted in the 5th round of the 2012 entry draft by Jay Feaster and company. In his draft season, Culkin had an NHLE of 10.3, which wasn’t overly impressive – but it’s the fifth round, right? Culkin rewarded the Flames by increasing his NHLE to 16.5 in his draft+1 season, showing a healthy progression and earning more PP and PK time to boot. Culkin hasn’t had to deal with many injuries during his time in the QMJHL, as he’s played 60+ games in the past three seasons (a full season consists of 68).

  Justin Kent Ryan BoL Byron Taylor Christian 2013 2012
Ryan Culkin N/R 14 13 N/R N/R 11 N/R N/R N/D

As you can see, Culkin’s definitely on the bottom end of the prospect spectrum. More than half of our panel didn’t rank him on their respective lists. 

It’s not necessarily the fault of Culkin that this is the case; the Flames have a very strong prospect cupboard so some guys are going to get washed out. I specifically valued Culkin lower than other prospects because of his age relative to his results in his specific league. Culkin spent the majority of his season as a 20-year old (Born in December), and I am personally very wary about huge spikes in production in older players at the CHL level because of the physical difference between a 16 or 17 year old and a 19 or 20 year old. I feel that at the Junior hockey level, size and maturity can make up for many deficiencies in a player’s game. There’s also the fact that older players tend to get more special teams time – this is important for reasons that you will see soon.

This season (13-14), Culkin had his best offensive output as a Junior player. As a rule of thumb, players who are successful at the NHL level do have some scoring prowess in the Junior ranks, regardless of that player’s offensive capabilites at the NHL level. It’s a very positive sign that Culkin increased his offensive output year-over-year. 

It is a less positive sign, unfortunately, that his contextual numbers are poor. We look at these numbers to see how a player is scoring and how much he matters to his team. Secondary assists are less “important” than primary assists as the player with the primary assist often is more responsible for the play. Even strength points are important because they tend to be more predictive of a player’s quality as power play opportunities are more rare on a player-to-player basis. PP scoring rates of teams are highly variable, too, so expecting a high percentage of points to come on the power play isn’t smart. Lastly, a player’s team offense percentage shows us how important he is to the team overall.

  Power Play Points Secondary Assists Team Scoring
Ryan Culkin 62% (31/50) 55% (23/42) 21% (50/243)

Of course, these numbers are less reliable than the numbers we have for NHLers, but they still give us a good base line. This is the other reason I didn’t rank Culkin that high: of his 42 assists this season, 28 were on the power play. It’s unlikely that a player is going to be able to replicate those types of numbers year-over-year for the reasons I’ve outlined above. At worst, I like to see a 55/45 EV/PP point split – Culkin was 38/62. He was also heavily in on the secondary assists, which suggests to me that he’s more of a passenger on scoring plays than his overall totals would suggest. I like to see a split of about 60/40 A1/A2. His team scoring percentage was okay, though, as 20% is my break-even line for defensemen. 

Conclusion

Culkin remains a much better prospect than one glancing over this profile may think simply because of his total output and the depth of the Flames’ system. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes a large step back offensively next season at the AHL level without the nice circumstances he had this year.  In fact, we already sort of saw that drop this season after he was traded. Culkin’s PPG pre-trade was .95. After? .52. A lot of that has to do with the fact that he was no longer getting the PP minutes he did with the Remparts, and it ended up hurting him – Culkin finished with an NHLE of 18.9.

Culkin skates well enough that he’s a legitimate NHL prospect, appears to have good hockey sense, and has increased his results year-over-year. His first pro season will go a long way in determining if he will ever be an NHLer.

  • FeyWest

    This is decent to see, I’m not sure how I would rank him as I must admit I’ve never had a chance to watch him play, but always am more positive when year after year they trend up (not knowing the situation of course can kill this).

    Q: Of those who have seen him play, knowing the stats does he have an alright ceiling to him given some time to work under Ward in the ranks of the Heat? How’s his team rank for style/build ie: is it like Providence where it’s a defensively minded team?

    • SmellOfVictory

      I have seen Culkin play on the Remparts and the Drummondville teams. The Remparts are more of an offensive team, based on the fact that their D was very young and inexperienced. This translated to Culkin playing 35-40 minutes a game. He was often playing the full 2 minutes on a PK. Drummondville had better defense, but before Culkin got there their PK was ranked very low. With his arrival their PK stats went from near bottom to middle of the pack. They also had a very good group of offensive tools and they added some top forwards at the trading deadline. I think he will do well working under Ward, his ceiling should be better than alright.

  • FeyWest

    It will be interesting to see where some of the other defencemen rank. Kulak is playing in the AHL playoffs so Ward must be pleased with him. Culkin has not been able to move him out of the lineup, so I would think Kulak must be ranked higher. 6’2″ 200 lbs he atleast has size.

    • FeyWest

      in pro, yes. in junior, not so much – being a passenger in a non-pro league doesn’t equate well to future success at the nhl level – overall, though, the pp/ev split is what i’m concerned about. before he was traded the split was 71/29

      • SmellOfVictory

        I would not consider Culkin a passenger. On the Remparts which you indicate the pp/ev was 71/29, he was playing with very young and inexperienced D. He was having to play 35-40 minutes a game and in all situations. Often the full 2 minutes on the PK. With those minutes it is hard to be offensive as he always paired with the youngest and most inexperienced D. His numbers were higher in the PP, where he was the quarterback and often he was the only D on the PP unit. That also could explain his numbers relating to the 1st and 2nd assists.

        • Burnward

          okay sure but if his pp numbers were inflated relative to his even strength numbers in quebec because of that, when he got traded we should have seen a bump up in terms of his even strength points. we didn’t – it was just a drop off of pp points. so, yeah, the narrative sounds good, but the evidence doesn’t support it at all. the second assists I’m less worried about.

          • Burnward

            I appreciate the work you have put into this analysis, and I like the fact that Culkin cracked the top 15. He did not in the previous year ranking. So that in itself shows improvement in the eyes of your team. The numbers are numbers and there is many intangibles that can not be reflected in a numbers analysis, but to suggest you watch every propect play is unreasonable. I will continue to read about the other top 15 propsects.

  • seve927

    Seems a very reasonable ranking. I think he’s a worthwhile prospect. I don’t think his numbers are particularly impressive, but I’ve seen him do some pretty impressive things. He has some real skill, and it will be interesting to see how he deals with the move to the professional level. Some guys get it and can just carry on doing what they do well and others really struggle. I think it’s very hard to say which path they will follow and I also think it has pretty much nothing to do with PP/ES point splits. Defensemen are just very hard to project. He’s a very good 5th round pick, with an outside chance to be a good NHLer.

    JMO.

    • SmellOfVictory

      He’s very okay. I think TSpoon and Kulak are ahead of him on the prospect depth chart, but that’s about it – which somewhat illustrates how much help the Flames need in terms of defensive prospects.

  • seve927

    I know Sieloff missed a year of development but I have him, Wotherspoon and Kulak all above Culkin.

    I was a bit surprised to see Culkin even make the top 15 to be honest.

    • SmellOfVictory

      I never really saw what the Flames (or most fans) do in Sieloff. He’s always been decent defensively, and not very good offensively; his only real standout attribute is the fact that his skating is above average and he hits like a truck.

      Don’t get me wrong, I like a dman who can blast guys into the boards (e.g. Giordano), but I like it as a complementary attribute rather than the primary reason for attaining him.

      • loudogYYC

        I speak for myself on this one, but I think Sieloff has the potential to be a relatively well rounded 4-6 Dman. The fact that he’s built like a rock and throws the body the around is his main attribute, but he moves around the ice well and it’s terrible at handling the puck.

        Kinda reminds me of Denis Gauthier but with better wheels.

  • seve927

    Thanks for doing this again guys; I’m finding really helpful. One small request, can you list where the player was ranked last year (or not ranked) to help us further gauge how much/if they have progressed?

    Thanks!

  • dudeguybro

    You finally mentioned skating in the last paragraph. How about actual scouting on the attributes and weaknesses in this player’s game? I know Patrick Roy trusted him on both the PP and PK in his +1 year, and Hockey Fan here mentions his deployment this year. Sorry, but I just don’t think looking purely at stats for a junior league D-man is going to give you much of an idea about their ability to play at the professional level. On the bright side it’s good to hear Culkin’s filled out well since 2012.

    • dudeguybro

      if you want cookie cutter “eyes only” analysis, you can get that from literally any other site on the web. there’s value in a statistical look because in the junior levels scoring is highly correlated with being a good player, regardless of position. if you don’t think there’s value in it, you’re on the wrong site.

      • dudeguybro

        Much of the “eyes only” analysis is from their draft year so the progression or maturation of their game is not addressed in significant depth. And I guess I’m just not sure what your analysis provided, beyond that he doesn’t have a future as a pp QB in all likelihood. It says very little about whether he could ever play on a third pairing. So one step beyond hockeydb stats to posit some concerns, then suggest I go elsewhere because I must not like numbers? Rel Corsi and PDO are my friends, but especially with defensemen and lower levels of hockey I think numbers can be misleading.

        • dudeguybro

          okay well then you’re not asking for a prospect profile you’re asking for future predictions. I also resent the fact that you make this seem easy. I have to go through each game sheet in a season manually to get these totals correct. these are not one step beyond hockey db, this is giving us important contextual evidence about how a player performed.

          I think you’re failing to grasp the central point – regardless of position, most future nhlers tend to have scoring success in junior. we can suss out where that success is coming from and if it’s sustainable here by using this contextual evidence. when we get to guys where there’s more evidence that’s not point-based, we will use it as well. the fact that he’s 15th says something about his future potential.

          • dudeguybro

            I appreciate the response, and will admit I didn’t realize the time and effort needed to glean those stats. However I’m not failing to grasp your central point as much as disagreeing regarding the efficacy of the analysis across an entire stable of prospects. There are many variables (like Kulak playing for an awful Vancouver Giants team or Sven on a powerhouse) that can affect numbers during these developmental years. And combined with lacking advanced stats for these players the picture can end up skewed or misleading. Hanowski & Agostino had similar college stats, but those never mention Hanowski’s brutal skating.
            There’s certainly value in your findings, but I’m much more interested in what it has to say about potential top-9 forwards or offensive D-men than guys like Culkin is all.

          • Burnward

            I’ll be honest here: the lack of mention re: his teams is because they both seemed to be average teams. i believe they finished right next to each other about half way down the qmjhl standings. you’ll see with one of our upcoming prospects that the team does have a lot to do with it.

  • jeremywilhelm

    I am a Culkin fan.

    I have and continue to relate him to TJ Brodie.

    Culkin’s biggest weakness, from when I watched him (about 7 times this year) was his wrist shot isnt all that great and his slap shot is non-existent.

    He is a very excellent skater and defender though. And I think he will be an NHLer.

  • Burnward

    I’m confused on this one Azevedo…

    Did you just claim to be better able to scout a player from numbers than someone who actually saw the kid play?

    Maybe I gots it wrong, but that’s craze…if that’s what you’re saying.

    • Burnward

      because of the natural unreliability of the eye test, most of the scouting stuff we see is just platitudes and generic questions. quality scouting can show us skills that are legitimately above or below average. but results, especially when compared against a small talent pool like the one we see in the qmjhl, become more important – the smaller the pool, the greater the talent disparity between (in this case) nhl-level prospects and everyone else.

      so no, i don’t think this is superior to watching culkin for 68 games. but I also don’t think just watching him for 68 games is superior to this, either.