With scrutiny and uncertainty increasing on the Calgary Flames with each passing game, I thought it was time to look at a Flame who has been arguably one of the most consistent players all season. Albeit, often overlooked.
That player is Brett Kulak who scored his second goal of the season last night against the Rangers, and was the only Flame to beat Henrik Lundqvist on a whopping 51 shots. His goal got me thinking, what kind of future does the 24 year old have with the Flames organization and what is his ceiling?
The Eye Test
Let’s start of with probably the least proven metric for judging a player and that is the eye test.
Brett Kulak definitely isn’t a player that’s going to amaze you with blazing speed or silky hands. He isn’t a player who’s offensive game will wow you, but he is a player that consistently plays a staunch defensive game and isn’t beaten often.
Kulak has provided the one thing Calgary has lacked from most of their bottom four defenders this season, and that again is consistency. He’s rarely caught out of position and seems to do a good job at limiting opposition chances. He has shown to be a strong skater on the back end who can reliably begin break outs and clear the zone.
Really, that’s all you can ask for from your “sixth defender”, although I think Kulak’s play this season could arguably have him as the Flames third or fourth best defender.
Let’s start simple and get a little more complex moving forward. Kulak has played in 55 games this season, scoring two goals and five assists for seven points. He has 23 PIM which is second lowest among regular Flames defenders behind only T.J. Brodie. Kulak is fifth for Flames defensemen in 5-on-5 scoring this season.
Despite +/- becoming an increasingly irrelevant stat, it is still encouraging to see Kulak sitting at a +3 on the year, which is sixth best on the team and third best for defensemen behind the Gio-Hamilton pairing. It’s even more impressive considering his linemate for most of the season has been Michael Stone who is at -8.
Kulak has only 15 giveaways this season which indicates that he handles the puck well, further affirming what was realized during the eye test.
Kulak has a relative CF% of -2.72% which isn’t great but is ahead of all other Flames defenders besides that top pairing again. It’s more impressive again considering his regular linemate Stone is sitting at a -5.47% relCF%.
His relative expected goals-for percentage sits at 0.87% which again is third best for Flames defenders. Kulak has the highest PDO among Flame defencemen at 100.2 which means he may be getting slightly luckier than his teammates but not by very much as the lowest is Stone at 99.05.
Overall the numbers on Kulak seem to back up that he’s a pretty good defender given the situations he’s been faced with.
What is Kulak’s Ceiling?
It’s never easy projecting where a player may end up so I’m not going to make anything definite with Kulak. He could have some potential of sliding into a top four role, but it’s hard to say. His lack of point production might hold him back in today’s offensively focused NHL.
At 24 years old, Kulak is by no means done developing. He’s often overshadowed by other up-and-coming prospects in the Flames organization. He may not have the high end luster that other defensive prospects in the Flames organization possess, but he is exactly the kind of player a team needs to ensure depth on their blue line outside of their top three or four defenders.
If he gets more opportunities in an offensive role his point numbers may increase, but I expect his defensive game to only get better as he grows. It’s quite encouraging to see his progression so far over the last year, and as a reminder, he’s only played 85 games so far in the NHL. He has a lot more learning to do.
Opinions of Kulak
I asked a few of our writers for their opinions on Kulak as well as opened it up to our followers on Twitter for their takes, here are a few of the replies.
@MilhouseFirehouse: I feel like Kulak’s been lost in the shuffle and I’m frankly unsure where I stand with him organization wise. I guess in this mess right now that’s not a bad thing. I’m more looking ahead with Kulak, depending where Stone ends up over the summer and what/where Kulak gets saddled with moving ahead. But I have no major knocks on him, and now that he’s got a couple goals that helps his case.
@samwell9: think he’s an excellent third pairing D and I feel optimistic of what he might be able to do on the second pair, but some players can’t make the jump to tougher minutes/competition. Mike Stone isn’t very good and Kulak has been stuck to him and had a quite good season so that’s a positive.
A great 4-5-6 defense choice. Great skater. Great first pass. Don't usually notice him which is a big compliment. Very serviceable. Need guys like that to fill in defense.— Andrew. (@havingagaudreau) March 3, 2018
3rd pairing D with little to average production potential. Excellent skater and first pass D. Could fill gap until Kylington is ready in 1-2 years.— Dean (@dinoprimo) March 3, 2018
makes a really good first pass and reads plays well. will probably never be a point producing dman, needs work on defensive zone coverage and gets beat 1 on 1.— Brennan Schaufert (@BSchaufert) March 3, 2018
Right now top 4 d in my opinion on the flames. Similar to brodie style better defender tho Needs more ice down the stretch— Blair Kambeitz (@blair_kambeitz) March 3, 2018
There seems to be an overall vibe that Kulak is a solid bottom pairing defenseman that could deserve a shot at getting some more ice time. That could be a good thing for Brodie especially who has been worked harder than usual this season, as it would alleviate some strain on him and perhaps improve his play as well.
After speaking with other Flames fans and writers, it becomes clear that there’s a pretty positive outlook to have on Brett Kulak this season. Both the eye test and the numbers seem to back up that he’s been at least one of the top four defenders on the Flames this season. Whether that would hold up in an actual top four role in game remains to be seen.
As mentioned earlier, Kulak may not be a big name in the Flames organization in terms of potential, but he is the kind of player that the Flames will need to shore up their blue line in the upcoming years with players such as Rasmus Andersson, Adam Fox, Juuso Valimaki, and Oliver Kylington making the jump to the NHL.
He’s consistent, and that’s exactly what Calgary needs moving forward.