2015 Development Camp: Ryan Culkin

If it’s possible for a player to have a first professional season that’s both impressive and disappointing, Ryan Culkin’s may be the best example of that.

A native of Montreal, Culkin made his pro debut last season with the Adirondack Flames and slowly but surely became one of the team’s best reliable defenders. His offensive production came in fits and starts, but he ended up being one of the team’s better positional defenders. His scoring peak came with a seven point performance in the month of December, but you could argue that his plus-7 rating in January was perhaps his most impressive statistical feat.

Culkin seemed a shoo-in for a call-up to Calgary at some point, but he suffered a major wrist injury on February 7 as a skate sliced through several tendons in his left wrist. Despite his season ending prematurely and Culkin missing a chance to make his NHL debut, his first pro season probably has to be looked at as a success. A year after spending the 2013-14 campaign in the QMJHL as an overager because of the log-jam of defenders in Abbotsford, Culkin experienced the ups and downs of adjusting to the professional game.

“It’s always difficult when there’s change, especially [when] it’s my first year,” shared Culkin. “I’m moving out of my billet house, living on my own. I had a roommate, Emile Poirier, that was fun. But it was difficult in the beginning: in and out of the line-up, not sure if you’re going to play a lot. But I worked really hard with Mike Thompson, our strength coach down there. As the season went on I built more strength, got better results, and the coach started seeing that and started playing me in even more situations. All-in-all, I thought it was great.”

Culkin noted that among the bigger challenges of jumping from junior to the AHL were adjusting to the logistical challenges of living on his own, as well as adjusting to the often big age differences in the AHL.

“Moving out you’ve got to do your own laundry, you’ve got to cook your own meals,” said Culkin. “At the same time, you’re playing against men. When I was finished my junior year, I was one of the older guys in the league. Last year, I was probably one of the youngest. I was playing with guys like 35, 36, they have families. It really opens up your eyes, ‘yeah, this is the pros.’ It took a little bit of adjustment, but then I thought I was doing well and taking some big strides for this season.”

Heading into his second professional season, Culkin’s quietly successful first year recalls the experience of Josh Jooris. Jooris was solid if unspectacular in his first pro season with Abbotsford, then burst out of the gates at training camp and won a roster spot soon after. Culkin notes that Jooris is serving as an inspiration for both players and coaches.

“No one expected him to crack the line-up, but in his mind, he was coming here to make the team,” said Culkin. “I think if we all take what he did and bring it to our mindset, if we all come to camp wanting to make the team, I think anything’s possible. He’s the best example. I was so happy for him, too. He came down for I think one day in Adirondack, got the call, and stayed all year. He had a great season last year and hopefully will continue throughout. And who knows? Like coach said prior to development camp: You know what? Anyone can make the team. He said ‘look at Josh Jooris.’ We’re all excited and looking forward to main camp.”

After nearly getting a shot at playing in the NHL and losing a chunk of his year to an injury, Culkin is hungry for another strong year and to potentially take the next step and make the NHL roster in Calgary this fall.

“Why not me?” pondered Culkin. “If I put my mind to it, work hard, anything is possible. So I’m definitely going to leave here with even more experience and come September, I want to make the team. I don’t want to play in the American Hockey League, I want to play in the NHL.”

With an AHL locker room galvanized by Jooris’ strong camp and season in the NHL, Culkin will probably be battling with 20-plus other guys with the same mindset. It should make for a very interesting competition when training camp opens in mid-September.

  • everton fc

    Looking forward to seeing what he can do at camp. If he continues to bulk up a bit, he could be a real steal for the Flames, in terms of where he was drafted.

  • OKG

    I think the Flames will have a real issue if some of these young guys on D pull Jooris and come to camp more than ready to “take” an NHL spot. A good problem to have, mind you, but what are they going to do if Culkin, Morrison and/or Nakladal comes to camp and flat out outplays Engelland for the 6/7 spots?

        • Parallex

          How is it “classless”? NHL teams do it all the time… heck the Flames did it just last year (Setoguchi).

          I’m not sure you could find someone to take him at 50% retained. I mean when Bob McKenzie broke the signing on twitter last year he had to clarify that the 2.7 was AAV not total value (which you classify under “you know you’ve made a bad signing when…”). I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that Engellend at 1.35 per for two years would be thought of as a bad contract (as opposed to a really bad contract at 2.7).

          Regardless of all that, Culkin… like the player. Not sold on there being a lot of upside but I firmly believe that what upside he has is in the legitimate NHL player tier.

          • OKG

            Setoguchi was on a 1 year vet minimum tryout type deal. Bringing him in and giving him an opportunity at all was a classy move. It would be similar to bringing in Alex Semin this year.

            In the cases of both Mason Raymond and Deryk Engelland, both players were signed to 3 year deals that paid pretty well. They were sought-after (by the Flames) UFAs. They’re similar to our signing of Frolik.

            Sought-after Future UFAs want some security, and that includes not being waived a year into a three year deal. Clearing waivers is a terrible thing for players’ careers even if they’re making NHL money – it can make it real tough to find a job afterwards.

            Reclamation projects are in a different category.

            Maybe Engelland @ 1.35M per isn’t a great contract but that doesn’t mean one of 29 teams isn’t interesteed.

          • Parallex

            That makes no sense.

            You say… “Clearing waivers is a terrible thing for players’ careers even if they’re making NHL money – it can make it real tough to find a job afterwards”… and yet it’s ‘classless’ to do it to a guy who’ll be entering his age 36 year (i.e. pretty close to retirement age anyways) when the contract (that pays him 8.1M) expires but not classless to do it to someone who is not guarenteed anything beyond the year, entering his age 28/29 year, getting 600K? Furthermore, Russell was waived (and cleared) before the Flames traded for him and it doesn’t seem to have affected his career any. If it’s not ‘classless’ to do it to Setoguchi then it’s not ‘classless’ to do it to Engelland.

            That said, I’d be in favor of retaining 50% if we could trade him that way (after putting him on waivers to see if anyone would pick up the full ticket)… but only because the money is a sunk cost and it eats less cap space then what is saved by reassigning him to Stockton. Nothing to do with matters of ‘class’.

          • Greg

            If it reinforces the “always earned never given” motto, it’s still a good thing. An entire roster of players that are always earning it and know they can never assume their spot is safe regardless of their contract would create an organization culture that many would consider very classy.

      • Robotron

        Perhaps you missed the twenty minutes a night he was playing while helping the Flames to the second round of the playoffs. Too bad that you missed it, it was a great playoff run.

        • Avalain

          It’s true. We get a bit carried away here with Engelland, but with how sparse the backend was by the end of the season I think it’s a safe bet that we wouldn’t have made it nearly as far if it was Potter instead of Engelland filling in.

  • Robotron

    I believe in Culkin for one reason…Hard work ethic…I play with his dad old-timer Hockey…bottom line is simple..Great kid..discipline on and off the ice….
    I predicted 10 NHLs games within 24 months…pretty safe bet…just have to keep making progress…Nothing spectacular but wont get you in trouble…