FlamesNation Prospect Profile #20: Ryan Culkin

FN20

It’s back! The FlamesNation Top 20 Prospect Countdown is here, and it starts today with number 20, Ryan Culkin. 

It’s August, which means we are starting to get closer to training camp and an end to the miserable, depressing, hockey-free existence that comes in the dog days of summer. As such, we’ll be counting down the Flames’ 20 best prospects, defined as Flames eligible for the Calder Trophy this season. A full explanation can be found here.

First up is Ryan Culkin, who has slid from number 13 last year and is coming off a very disappointing season split between the AHL and the ECHL. Come read all about it after the jump!

A BRIEF HISTORY

Ryan Culkin has had a rough go as a professional hockey player. Just when it seems like he is ready to step up and become a leader at the AHL level, a rake appears and Culkin hasn’t missed one yet. While I’m not suggesting that Culkin is fragile by any stretch, I am suggesting that he switches witch doctors. Soon.

But first, some background. It just so happens that I wrote Ryan Culkin’s prospect profile from 2015 and his player evaluation from this past season, so it seems fitting that I am here with you today to dissect a rather unremarkable year from Culkin. One of four remaining members from a worrisome 2012 draft class (we’re counting on you JG), Culkin had a very successful draft+1 season after being selected in the fifth round. 

Things were looking up for Culkin in his first professional season, scoring 18 points in his first 37 pro games. However, a nasty wrist injury caused him to miss the remainder of the 2014-15 season, a tough blow for a guy who looked like he was starting to get his career on track. Despite the injury, Culkin was recalled as a black ace for the Flames during their playoff run in 2014-15, surely an indication of the strength of the first half of his season.

Looking to build on that season, Culkin was again dealt a harsh blow when he was injured at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton last summer. This injury derailed his season and led to Culkin spending a fair amount of time in the ECHL while he tried to get his game back.

As you can see from this table, last season’s counting numbers aren’t exactly pretty for Culkin. This past season, Culkin scored one goal in 60 (!) games between Adirondack and Stockton. That’s not great news, especially as he was held goalless in 33 games in the ECHL. For a defender that has had the ability to put up points fairly consistently in his career, seeing a drop off like that is surely concerning.

QUOTABLE

Here’s what Stockton Heat Head Coach Ryan Huska had to say in an interview with FN’s Ryan Pike: 

On how his season went:

“He unfortunately came off a pretty serious injury and had to deal with another one right away, so when he was ready to come back we had a lot of defensemen and we thought it would be best for him to get himself back into game shape by playing in Glens Falls. 

“I think he went down there with the right attitude. I think he was probably down there a little longer than he had hoped for and it took him a little while to get his game going again once we recalled him. By the last five games of the year or so, we thought he was playing to the standard that we saw from him the year before, which is a real positive sign for us.”

On improvements from the last year:

“It’s tough sometimes because the players put everything they have into either playing in the American League or the NHL of course, and when they get pushed down sometimes it’s a challenge for you mentally. And I think for Ryan, it was a real challenge; not only did he have to overcome the injury and getting himself back into game conditioning, but being down there is a real mental roadblock that you have to overcome, and I think because of that we’re gonna see a better Ryan Culkin this year.”

WHAT COMES NEXT?

The fact that Culkin still has a spot on this list is indicative of his strong campaigns earlier in his career. He will likely be fighting for regular minutes in Stockton next season. Further complicating things is the fact that the Flames have too many bottom pairing options at the NHL level at the moment to give enough deserving candidates a shot, making top four minutes in Stockton even harder to come by. 

Though we know that his year wasn’t great, let’s try to put Culkin’s season with Stockton in context among his peers using simple stats like shots per game, points per game, and an interesting but imperfect stat called ‘goals created,’ which is explained in detail here.

stocktond2

(Thanks to AHL.Prospect-Stats for the info.)

As you can see, the closest comparable to Culkin during his 27 games in Stockton was goal per game NHL defenceman Ottawa Senator Pat Sieloff, and I’m not exactly sure that Culkin would welcome that kind of company. Statistical analysis of Culkin’s last year is likely folly.

Truthfully, Culkin is probably in danger of being lost between the cracks of the Flames’ plans moving forward; he’s playing in the final year of his entry-level deal, facing restricted free agency next summer. Perhaps more pressing for Culkin is the fact that the Flames are facing an influx of defencemen into their system this year and next, and Culkin needs to be able to distinguish himself from other, younger prospects. 

Joining Culkin in restricted free agency next summer are Brett Kulak and Kenney Morrison and considering the oncoming log-jam of defencemen at the AHL level, I would think it nearly certain the Flames will not be qualifying all three defenders. This season, Culkin will have to distinguish himself in Stockton or he will likely be looking for work next summer. 

  • Baalzamon

    Culkin has always been overrated in my opinion. The only time it was ever close between him and Kulak was in their first pro season, when Kulak had that terrible start (notably, he finished the season with the same scoring rate as Culkin, in spite of what people choose to remember). Nevertheless, it’s only very recently that the majority of fans and even analysts have begun to realize that Kulak is (and always has been) the better prospect.

    With the depth in the system at all positions at this point, I don’t understand how he makes anyone’s top 20 list at this point, to be perfectly honest. Well, good luck to him, anyway. It’s just my opinion.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      I don’t know how he is going to get enough minutes in the AHL to even make up for lost time, let alone improve. The more unfortunate thing is we have too many D-men of his ilk. As far as LHS, we have Kylington, Hickey, Kulak, and Spoon. Those are more the puck mover/offensive types, though Spoon is more a defensive type.

      As far as ceiling goes, Spoon could top out as a 3rd pair guy, while Kylington and Hickey are more the 2nd pair types. I don’t see Kulak as being any more than a 3rd pairing guy, and really doesn’t fit the need now. Culking is behind him, so his chances are even less.

      • freethe flames

        Hickey is going back to NCAA so this year he does matter for Culkin’s ice time. But indeed he must play significantly better if he wants to make an impact. I was more impressed with Olas Mattsson at the development camp than I was with Culkin. Only time will tell though.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    Sounds like another player not doing so well under the tutelage of Huska…I have a feeling this will be a common trend for these prospects.

    WW

    • Tomas Oppolzer

      Considering a large part of Culkin’s issues have been injury related, what are you suggesting? Do you think Huska went at him with a crowbar? Will you ever stop harping on Huska? Everyone you say he’s ruining the development of also had decent years under Huska in Adirondack. That compounded with the call-ups Calgary has made being more than ready to fill in make me think you’re just looking for stuff to complain. It’s possible Poirier (only player that really took a huge step back) had a bad year because of he didn’t come into the year prepared.

  • I’ve got a ton of time for Culkin as a prospect, but he’s had horrible injury luck over the past few seasons with a pair of freak injuries back-to-back. He needs to have a good camp and to stay healthy to stay on the call-up radar.

  • flamesburn89

    With the amount of bodies the Flames have on the backend, some of whom look to have a higher ceiling, Culkin will have to have an outstanding year wherever he plays to avoid getting cut loose next summer.

  • Slowmo

    I believe some of these guys will be traded before season opening. Say good by to Teaspoon and perhaps Hickey or maybe Mattsson. Only because of the log jam in the D position Might even see a goalie go with 1 of the D same reason. Culkin i’m afread will never see the NHL or be resigned next yr. Not by the Flames any way.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    Let’s not forget about the players who were shown the door under Huska; Grant, Agostino, etc, is Arnold still around?

    The fact that the FN writers refuse to write an article about his effectiveness as a coach should tell you all you need to know…

    WW

  • RealMcHockeyReturns

    I thought Ollas Mattson looked good at Dev Camp also. Culkin just needs some time and either way, he gets better and we keep him OR maybe he’s a good trade add-on perhaps to get Wide-Dog or somebody else out of town. Maybe Colorado takes him in package.