Brett Kulak is set to make his season debut tonight, as the Flames host the Minnesota Wild at the Scotiabank Saddledome (8 p.m., TV: HNIC, Radio: Sportsnet960 The FAN).
"I've put in a lot of hard work, even though I'm not playing," Kulak said following the team's morning skate. "So I'm in game shape and I'm ready to go."
Coach Glen Gulutzan wanted to change his lineup to inject a little more energy into his group. Freddie Hamilton and Curtis Lazar draw in for Tanner Glass and Matt Stajan, while Kulak swaps out Matt Bartkowski.
"We've got a lot of guys knocking at the door here, and we felt tonight was a good night to get some of our guys in," Gulutzan said. "We've got a competition, and we need guys to step up and solidify positions."
Kulak should be able to provide a boost to the blueline. He scored three assists in 21 games last season, his first NHL points, and registered a 50.58% 5v5 Corsi-for, according to Natural Stat Trick: the third highest among Flames defencemen.
While he's been waiting for his chance to play, Kulak has been hard at work in practice, ensuring he'd be ready when he got the call.
"There's a lot of things we do in practice that are game-like situations that I can work on those things," Kulak said. "A lot of it's just my strength in the corners, you know the hit-and-pin plays, boxing guys out coming to the front of the net, and just keeping the other team out of the front of our net where they can't score. So I think those are things I've worked on and I'll look to do that tonight."
Video: Kulak on drawing into the lineup this season
Expected to play alongside Michael Stone, Kulak sees some similarities between him and his former D partner, Deryk Engelland.
"I think it'll be awesome," Kulak said. "He plays a lot like Engo from last year, so I can kinda relate to that a little bit. I've played a majority of my NHL games with Engelland so I think Stoner will be similar. He likes to slow the play down a little bit, he's really good with the puck. So I'll look for things like that and be able to get open for him to give him an outlet play and just for good breakouts out of our zone."
Kulak and Engelland meshed well. Together, they had a 51.95% CF, with Kulak's play bringing Engelland up by roughly 12 points.
"I think he'll be good," Stone said. "He skates well, moves the puck well."
"If you look at Brett, just the work he puts in, the time after, before, he's a very structured young man and he'll be ready," Gulutzan said. "I don't have any doubts that he'll be ready. He's practiced and played and trained very hard.
"The one thing with Brett, he's a good skater, he'll give us energy, he's gotta move the puck quick, and when he does those things he can be effective."