While the number of games Matthew Tkachuk has played has been a big subject, things have been quiet regarding his fellow rookie, Brett Kulak.
Kulak isn’t on the clock for anything. He’s already on the last year of his entry-level deal; how many games he plays doesn’t really matter this year as much.
But it still stands that the Flames have played 11 games so far this season, and Kulak has been dressed for just three of them. In that time, he started playing about 15 minutes a game, and picked up his very first NHL point.
How long has it been since Kulak played?
The Cubs hadn’t won a World Series in 108 years. October 20. It was Oct. 20. It’s time to get him back in the lineup.
Fact is, Kulak isn’t the worst defenceman on this team. He probably isn’t the second worst guy, either. One can understand scratching him every now and then, but it’s been six straight games now. Over that time, we’ve seen the Flames rebound somewhat, from “really difficult to watch play” to “sometimes I feel this weird feeling watching them, it’s called hope, I think”.
But over that time, the defence pairings have remained a mess. Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie remain split up so Dennis Wideman – a powerplay specialist who was taken off the powerplay in the most recent game – and Deryk Engelland can continue to play alongside what should be the Flames’ top two defencemen.
It’s not that Kulak is necessarily ready to handle top four minutes yet, but he certainly has more potential (and mobility, for that matter) than either of those players. He’s a lefty, but what does the obsession with handedness matter if Brodie has said he prefers playing the right side, and is still relegated to the left? It shouldn’t.
Through his three games so far this season, he has a 5v5 CF of 60.27%. That’s a small sample size, but it’s what we’ve got to work with, and it has him the current team leader. That’s with 45.45% offensive zone starts, by the way; Wideman and Giordano are the only defencemen who have been more sheltered.
Kulak played eight games in 2015-16. His 5v5 CF then was 55.62%, which was good for third on the team, behind Emile Poirier (played two games) and Fredde Hamilton (played four). His OZS then was 50.88%; again, Wideman was more sheltered than he was (as was Jakub Nakladal, as far as defencemen go).
These are all really small sample sizes, but that just further proves the point: why aren’t we seeing what this kid can do? He’s at least earned a modicum of trust by now, hasn’t he? Sure, it’s likely his numbers will drop the more he plays, but we’ll never know unless that actually happens – and in the meantime, we’re watching older defencemen who often have trouble keeping up with the play, who have limited, deteriorating skill sets dress in his stead game after game after game.
Kulak shouldn’t be Nicklas Grossmann. He shouldn’t be up with the club for cap purposes. He made the team out of camp, and he still has potential; he should be playing.
We’re a month into the season now. There’s no reason for him to be sitting this often. It’s time to give Kulak a chance. Otherwise, why is he here?