Ryan Culkin is a left-shooting defenceman from Montreal. Being from Montreal, that meant fun times for him: he was going to get to play in the no-defence, high-scoring QMJHL, which is surely something every defenceman loves.
But while the Q isn't really known for generating NHL-caliber defenders, it does happen. A good, best case example is Kris Letang, himself a third rounder. And good news: Letang sees some of himself in Culkin! Bad news: that was from like, three years ago, so who knows if that's still the case.
Still, at 6'2, 185 lbs., Culkin is a player who certainly shows potential. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot exceptional about him, but he rose through the ranks of Adirondack's depth charts, cementing himself as a top four - and then, with injury call ups, top pairing - defenceman for the Flames in the AHL. He had marked improvement over this past season. The question is: will he be able to keep it up, especially as the Flames' defence prospect pool has grown since then? He'll need to have another big year ahead of him to stay in the conversation.
|Rank||Player||DOB||Draft||2014-15 team||Vote total|
|25||Ryan Culkin||12/15/93||124th overall, 2012||Adirondack Flames (AHL)||13|
Typical of QMJHL defencemen, Culkin put up a lot of points over his time with the Quebec Remparts, and later, the Drummondville Voltigeurs as a playoff rental. Not typical of highly projected players, though, he failed to ever reach a point per game in juniors.
As a rookie, Culkin played just 40 games with the Remparts, but was present for an additional 18 games in the playoffs: a playoffs that saw Quebec go far, but ultimately fall in the third round to the Gatineau Olympiques in seven games. (Gatineau ended up losing to the Saint John Sea Dogs in the final in six.)
Quebec saw less playoff success over the rest of Culkin's career with them, losing in the second round in back-to-back years.
Following his third year with the Remparts, Culkin had the opportunity to turn pro a season early thanks to his December birthdate. The Flames, however, felt he wasn't ready, and so his 20-year-old season was spent back in junior. That's when he finally said goodbye to Quebec, being traded from his third place division team to... another third place division team, the Drummondville Voltigeurs. The Voltigeurs, too, fell in the second round, and with that, Culkin's junior career was over.
When he joined the Adirondack Flames for his first professional season, Culkin was a part of a major log jam in the defence ranks: a log jam he managed to rise above, becoming one of the team's highest scoring defencemen. He only scored one goal, but managed to post nearly half a point per game as a rookie.
Culkin's season ended prematurely when he suffered cut tendons in his left wrist. Had he not, he likely would have played his first NHL game in the Flames' meaningless regular season finale; instead, Brett Kulak, who spent much of his season playing in the ECHL, was granted that honour.
Strengths and weaknesses
Culkin can skate, one thing absolutely necessary towards becoming an NHL player. He can also score, which certainly doesn't hurt, and can absolutely move the puck up the ice. He's comfortable in his own end, as well.
Basically, he's a well-rounded defenceman still finding his footing in the professional game, but the steps he took forward in 2014-15 were immense, and helped him rise up through the Flames' ranks. Being one of the farm team's highest scoring defencemen certainly helped keep him in the conversation, especially as the Flames have improved their defence prospect pool over this off-season.
What Culkin needs to do is simply keep at it. Depending on what Adirondack's defence looks like next season - if Tyler Wotherspoon, Kenney Morrison, and even Oliver Kylington are there, in particular - he may see his role diminish. Like any young player, Culkin will need to continue to build his strength. He isn't a particularly physical player, but with his tools and intelligence, he doesn't necessarily need to be.
Future with the Flames
Right now, Culkin looks like a nice piece with a shot at making it. He may not ever turn into a top four defenceman at the NHL level, but if he can become a bottom pairing guy who doesn't hurt his own team while on the ice, can handle defensive duty, and chip in the occasional point, he could one day find himself in the NHL.
Nothing's a guarantee, though, and while Culkin does a lot of little things right, at this point in time, there doesn't appear to be anything indicating he's exceptional.
Expectations for 2015-16
Culkin isn't about to make the NHL next season, especially not when the Flames have recently improved their defence prospect pool (although, if enough injuries strike, it's certainly possible... but a lot of players would have to get injured). That said, hopes for him next year are to build on his rookie professional season as a staple in the Stockton Heat's defence core, and improve his points totals without sacrificing any of his defensive acumen, and in fact building on that as well.
Hopefully, he'll be back to his playing level before his wrist injury, and will have a good season.