Brett Kulak and Tyler Wotherspoon are both legitimate options

So we’re at that point of the year, mere weeks away from the regular season, and the typical discussion of who could make the roster to fill any lingering holes. One hole of note is on the defense, and it’s a rather important one.

The reality that Jakub Nakladal will be re-signed anytime soon – or at all for that matter – is increasingly diminishing. Ladislav Smid is done for the season (and presumably his career), and we’ve hit a fever pitch with discussion of whether or not the Flames should bite on Kris Russell again

Rather than pursue Russell or a guy on a PTO like Nicklas Grossmann, the Flames should look internally.

Brett Kulak

If the objective for the Flames is to find someone who can slot in under contract for cheap and hopefully provide some positive impact while on ice, then they can start with Brett Kulak. After splitting time in 2014-15 between the AHL and ECHL, Kulak made some significant strides in the right direction with Stockton.

When he finally earned a short stint last season, Kulak did nearly everything right to warrant more time. His on-ice impacts were impressive for where and what he was used for (via Corsica Hockey):

kulak

For Kulak, 56.41 of those 5v5 minutes came when he played with Deryk Engelland. It’s the worst kept secret that Engelland’s results on-ice can be a bit drag on his partner’s on-ice results. Even though that may be the case historically, the two worked pretty well together last season. In that limited time together, the pair boasted a 58.42% CF at 5v5 (via Corsica’s WOWY tool):

corsicakulak

And this is why, with what limited data is available, there is a case for Brett Kulak to – at the very least – be on the third pairing with either Jyrki Jokipakka, Deryk Engelland, or Dennis Wideman to start the season. Strictly from a financial standpoint, he’s on the final year of his entry-level contract, and the added flexibility it provides is reason enough.

His on-ice results are strong enough that it would be foolish to not explore them and see if he can hang continuously on the third or even second pairing to see what the Flames have. And with a team where there isn’t much option for the second pairing to play with Dougie Hamilton, there is an opportunity to try him there to start.

But in the immediate future – if the opportunity arose – the third pairing is a good jumping off point to truly see what the Flames have in him. The only real catch with Kulak is he’s a left-handed shot and on a team so desperate for right-handed shots, the handedness conundrum becomes a further issue.

Tyler Wotherspoon

If there is one guy who saw time in Hartley’s doghouse more than most Flames players it was Tyler Wotherspoon. In this new Glen Gulutzan era of Flames hockey this should be Wotherspoon’s opportunity to get a real, sustained look at the NHL level. A left-handed shot like Kulak, Wotherspoon received similar usage and minutes on the Flames’ third pairing:

wotherspoon

Again, the biggest takeaways here are the limited minutes, but this should hopefully help fans get the idea that Wotherspoon and Kulak can provide value. The biggest luxury Wotherspoon had last season was playing 105.35 of those 5v5 minutes with Jakub Nakladal. In that time they posted an acceptable 50.52% CF together:

corsicawoth

Beyond that, every other sample is extremely small but still, like Kulak, it lends itself to the importance of the team finding a way to showcase one or both of them. This season is the best opportunity the Flames have had in quite some time to see whether or not Wotherspoon can be an NHL defenseman, or if he’s destined for the AHL, or other leagues.

Wotherspoon has come a long way since his 14 game sample back in 2013-14 when he produced an abysmal 40.52% CF at 5v5. It was apparent at the time that sitting him in the pressbox in 2014-15 was wrong and any playing time then could have been a benefit to improving his game. Hopefully this is the year for seeing what he can be at the NHL level.

So who is it? Kulak or Wotherspoon?

Kulak honestly fits the bill for what the team needs to carry as a six or seven guy to start the season. From what we’ve seen in the preseason and last season he moves the puck well, can distribute the puck, play with less than preferred partners, and potentially slot in higher if required.

He has all the requisite individual skills to be an option and now is the time to fully realize it.

All of this isn’t to say that Wotherspoon doesn’t have distinguishable value on this team. Wotherspoon can move the puck decently, he can potentially eat even strength minutes in controlled usage, and there is always the possibility of seeing him play on the second unit penalty kill.

But right now – from a strictly personal perspective – I would lean more towards Kulak as being the guy the Flames use to start the season until an injury, or if he stumbles.

  • Cheeky

    One thing the Flames desperately need is someone to clear the front of the net. Too many times last year opponents were left all alone draped over our goalies without consequences which cost us goals. Engelland sometimes provides that, however we need another to step up for that role and I think Wotherspoon can be that guy. Now don’t misinterpret that as Wotherspoon over Kulak, but he is more suited to that role. In the small amount of time I’ve seen him up here over the last couple years, he’s strong along the boards and has done a decent job of net presence (aka clearance/tie up drills). The top 3 (4 if you include Wideman – ugh) provide offense but you also need a good couple of shut down, tough to play against types. Kulak is a better choice of replacing Wideman if he ever goes… Ah how I miss the old Tunnel of Death Reggie…

    • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

      You’re right about clearing the net. Gio is your toughest defender. Brodie is smart but doesn’t have the size and the 6’5″ 230 pound Hamilton let’s anyone into the crease that wants to be there but he gets points so that’s the trade off.

  • knappsacked

    Wotherspoon>kulak because i believe wotherspoon has #4 dman potential. Plus his defense orientated game could be a good fit with dougie if we lose jyrki in the expansion draft.

  • RKD

    I’ve personally liked Kulak over Wotherspoon, Kulak looked good in his first stint with Calgary. He played with poise and maturity and didn’t make any high risks or gambles that would turn the puck over. He would as you would say was a “steady eddie.” Nothing flashy just dependable.

  • ClayBort

    Yes the Flames should focus more on the front of the net and set more screens in front of their goalie instead of just getting the puck back and out of the zone.

    • Cheeky

      Hmmm, should resign Russell straight away then. Obviously you can’t figure out the actual point I was making so I will use small words: Sometimes when the other team has the puck as in the powerplay, they have a player stand in front of the net so as to screen the goalie. If we just stand and watch rather than move that player, it usually ends up in a goal (Corey Perry, Thomas Holmstrom ring a bell). Now Kulak may be good with moving the puck, but he’s not as big or strong as Wotherspoon was my point. We used Russell in that capacity last year and most players pushed him aside (when he wasn’t flailing around in front of the shot). Unfortunately in the game of hockey you need more than just 1 type of player….

    • freethe flames

      I don’t think anyone is saying add a one dimensional pylon but it would be good to have someone who can protect the front of the net. Tspoon is a capable puck mover although not TJ, Gio, Dougie or even Kyligton but he is not Eng who sometimes struggles to make tap to tap passes across the ice even when it is uncontested.

  • VoRaCS

    Kulak strikes me as one of those players who will both look and perform better when used with other skilled players. I think it would be a huge mistake for the Flames not to give him a chance this season. I would love to see what he would look like playing with Brodie. It’s time to start giving some of our young defensive talent a chance to improve this team.

  • Dan the flames fan

    Either player has earned a place on the team, and bringing back Russell or a PTO would weaken the integrity of the Flames system. Even though BH is gone, earned not given should still have merit. Russell and Grossman have not earned the place on the team. Kulak has definitely shown he belongs on the big club. His development needs to be here to further improve.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    The team absolutely needs to fill spots internally given the cap crunch and that Wideman and Engelland will likely be gone at the end of 2016-17. Moreover, Wortherspoon, especially has been around a while and it’s pretty clear what he can do in the AHL, thus the Flames need to either play him on the big team or move him to another org. His time has come.

    • jupiter

      There was an earlier blog about this.The speculation was his agent purposely signed him to a bargain 625k contract knowing full well that he won’t pass through waivers.