MONTREAL - Brett Kulak knew pretty early on in his tenure with the Canadiens organization that he'd be a happy camper in Montreal.
The defenseman was acquired from the Calgary Flames in exchange for Matt Taormina and Rinat Valiev on the eve of the 2018-19 regular season, and was immediately blown away by what he saw from his new hockey home.
"I just got such a good feeling from the team," described Kulak, a fourth-round draft choice (105th overall) by the Flames in 2012. "I just remember right away I felt the history of the team and the franchise and how well they treat the players. And just seeing [pictures of] past players around the locker room, that gives you a cool feeling. Being around that atmosphere, around the city and the fans and everything like that, it's pretty special."
On Saturday, Kulak agreed to a contract extension that will keep him wearing bleu-blanc-rouge through the end of the 2021-22 season, and the 6-foot-2, 187-pound rearguard affirms it wasn't a decision that required much contemplating.
"When I got the opportunity to sign the three years, it was a no-brainer for me. That's the dream growing up: when you work, you want to play at the highest level in the world. And I think the Canadiens are probably the best franchise in the world and hockey market to play in," praised Kulak. "That's the dream and the goal to work towards. I didn't hesitate when I got the chance to sign for three years."
Video: MTL@CBJ: Kulak fires opening goal through traffic
Kulak set new career highs in goals (6), assists (11), points (17), differential (plus-12), and average ice time (17:51) in his first campaign in Montreal, and feels like his brand of hockey meshed perfectly with the Canadiens' structure.
"The style, the game that the coaches want to push on the team - the speed, the skating, it plays right into the strengths of my game with my skating, puck movement, and getting into transitioning quickly," shared Kulak. "It was an easy transition for me into the group, even at the start. Right from the start, really, I just jumped in. And obviously, the coaches help you along a little ways. But it just felt pretty natural for me jumping into their system."
Video: FLA@MTL: Kulak beats Reimer with one-time blast
Of course, getting paired up to play with veteran defensemen such as Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, and Jordie Benn had some effect on Kulak's ability to crack the lineup - and stay there.
"With all of them, they helped me along and they all taught me a little something different. They're all veteran guys and have been in the League for a long time. For me, it was my second full year in the NHL," recounted Kulak, who played 57 games with the Canadiens and 19 with the AHL's Laval Rocket in 2018-19. "I still have lots to learn and lots of growth to do, but being around those guys, with their experience and everything they've been through throughout their careers, it helped me a ton."
Video: DET@MTL: Kulak rips home blistering one-timer
Kulak is back in his native Alberta for the summer, carrying out his offseason training at The Edge on the west side of Calgary, and says he won't be making any major adjustments to his regimen as he looks to build on his success from this past season.
"I think it's just a matter of every year, you learn something different or tweak something different, to do just a couple degrees better," he explained. "For me, it's just been a combination of consistency in the gym, putting the time in and the strength stuff, and then also just getting on the ice and working on ice.
"I'm going to look to tweak the diet a little bit, I always look for a little extra edge there. And then working on the hands off-ice, even for 30 minutes a day, just to start stickhandling with a golf ball and then just shoot a few extra pucks even before my workout to start. I'm not out there for two hours every day doing it extra, but I think 20-30 minutes of that extra each day will add up" Kulak concluded. "Even if it makes you a 5% better player, that's huge."