The latest player in our prospect profile series is defenseman Brett Kulak, who our writers voted as the Calgary Flames’ 17th-best prospect.
Kulak had a pretty eventful first professional season in 2014-15; he played with the AHL’s Adirondack Flames, then was demoted to the ECHL’s Colorado Eagles to get some playing time. When some defenders went down with injuries in both Calgary and Adirondack, he was summoned back to the AHL and played well enough down the stretch to get brought up to the NHL for the final game of the regular season.
Here’s a quick look at Brett Kulak.
Born in Edmonton and developed through the western hockey system, culminating in a three-season stint with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, Kulak was Calgary’s fourth round selection – 105th overall – in the 2012 NHL Draft. By odd coincidence, the Flames just keep on hitting in the fourth round, as Kulak joins T.J. Brodie (2008), Bill Arnold (2010) and Johnny Gaudreau (2011) as recent fourth rounders that played in the NHL. Kulak was the first player from the 2012 Draft class to play in the big league when he made his debut in Winnipeg in Game 82 of last season.
I’ll admit, I’ve always liked Kulak’s game. He’s a pretty good skater with good mobility, who’s not often caught out of his position. Because of his skating prowess, his junior coaches – which were primarily Don Hay – seemed to give him the green light to jump into the rush. And you can’t really argue with his junior results.
- 2011-12: 24 points in 72 games (0.333 points/game)
- 2012-13: 44 points in 72 games (0.611 points/game)
- 2013-14: 60 points in 69 games (0.870 points/game)
And when you factor in that Kulak’s build for speed, not for battle – he’s listed as 6’1″, 190 lbs on the Flames site – his increase in production is more of a product of him adapting to situations, earning the trust of his coach and getting more opportunities than it is sheer physical maturity. His production earned him an NHL contract and a pair of late-season cups-of-coffee in the AHL in 2012-13 and 2013-14, including playoff games with the Abbotsford Heat.
This past season, Kulak had some growing pains. He had to adjust to the AHL schedule, the AHL style of play and figuring out a new AHL coach in Ryan Huska. As a result, he ended up going down to the ECHL’s Colorado Eagles to get some ice-time.
- OCTOBER: 5 AHL games: 1 goal, -6, 19 PIM
NOVEMBER: 1 AHL game: 0 points, even
[Sent to ECHL on November 4]
9 ECHL games: 2 goals, 3 assists, -2
- DECEMBER: 13 ECHL games: 3 goals, 8 assists, +5, 13 PIM
- JANUARY: 15 ECHL games: 4 goals, 9 assists, +5, 2 PIM
FEBRUARY: 3 AHL games: 1 assist, +2, 2 PIM
[Recalled to AHL on February 7]
2 ECHL games: 1 assist, even
- MARCH: 10 AHL games: 2 goals, 3 assists, +3, 4 PIM
APRIL: 7 AHL games: 1 goal, 5 assists, -1, 2 PIM
1 NHL game: 2 PIM
As you can see, Kulak seemed to (numerically) struggle early-on in the AHL. He spent three months in the ECHL, generated points at a pretty good rate (30 points in 39 games overall) and by the time he came back to the AHL, he had a bit of swagger to his game – the kind he had in the WHL during his prime production years.
And in his one NHL game, I’ll admit, I think he was the best of Calgary’s rookie defenders – including Tyler Wotherspoon. Granted: the sample size was incredibly small.
Kulak’s heading into his second year of his entry-level contract. The challenge for him will be continuing his momentum, particularly given that the Stockton Heat will see the additions of high-profile prospects such as Jakub Nakladal, Kenney Morrison and Keegan Kanzig (along with Oliver Kylington potentially) on the blueline. Kulak had the great opportunity to play a lot in his first pro season; the onus will be on him at training camp and the early part of the season to show that he made the most of that opportunity and progressed towards a potential NHL job.
I think going to Colorado was a good thing for Brett, and I think most players when they’re presented with that option or that situation, they’re not happy, and I think he, in his situation, went down with the right attitude. When we saw Brett come back after his call-up, he was a guy who had a lot more confidence and we were noticing his skating at a level where we kind of expected him earlier on in our season before he got sent down, but you saw his confidence when he came back up and by having him play as much as he played while he was with Colorado and the number of games and minutes, I think it allowed him to feel good about himself so when he did come back I really felt like he belonged and he truly believed that himself. So, he made some huge strides along the way as well, and I think he handled it like professional as well in a situation that at times can be uncomfortable.
-Stockton Heat (and former Adirondack Flames) head coach Ryan Huska