My goal was obviously to turn pro this year, but I made a name for myself at camp. I worked my butt off, so I can't complain. Ultimately, going back to juniors, I wanted to be the best 20-year-old overage defenceman in the [QMJHL]. I thrived on always being the best and I think I did a great job this year. - Ryan Culkin
ABBOTSFORD, BC -- It was a bittersweet season for Ryan Culkin.
On the one hand, he set career highs in goals, assists and points with the Quebec Remparts and Drummondville Voltigeurs.
On the other hand, there was an opportunity to prove to Flames management that he was ready to turn pro during training camp. However, he was sent back to juniors for his overage season.
But the Montreal native didn't let it get him down. After learning he'd be going back to juniors, Culkin set a goal for himself and delivered.
"My goal was obviously to turn pro this year, but I made a name for myself at camp. I worked my butt off, so I can't complain," he said.
"Ultimately, going back to juniors, I wanted to be the best 20-year-old overage defenceman in the [QMJHL]. I thrived on always being the best and I think I did a great job this year. I had a lot of success in Quebec City and when I got traded to Drummondville, it was a different system, but I learned it quick and I thought overall I had a very great year - one of my best years in junior hockey."
In 38 games with the Remparts, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound rearguard was on a near point-per-game pace (5 goals, 31 assists) before being traded to Drummondville in early January. There, he amassed 14 points in 27 games and posted a point-per-game during the QMJHL playoffs.
Meanwhile, while all of Culkin's focus and energy was on his team's playoff run, he got a call.
"It was during playoffs. I got a call from my agent and he said that he was negotiating for an [entry-level] deal and I thought, 'Oh wow, that's awesome,'
"At the same time, I was kind of nervous because I didn't want it to affect the way I wanted to play during the playoffs. But after it was done, I was really happy. Dad got a little emotional. It was a great feeling and I've got to keep working hard along the way."
The Flames' 2012 fifth-rounder made enormous strides following his training camp in Calgary. He knew what to expect and what was expected of him. He took his experiences back to juniors and continued to sharpen the skills needed to make an impact in the professional ranks.
"We had to do a lot of speed training. We had to work on my speed a bit because the next level's a lot faster. I also got a lot more confidence going to the gym and gaining some weight.
"I'm really looking forward to going into [Calgary] this summer and just playing the way I play - keeping it simple with a great D-zone and bring an offensive touch to my game."
Culkin was unable to get in a game with the Abbotsford Heat this season, but he will surely be a staple on the blueline come fall. Instead, he's spent a considerable amount of time with a sizeable group of black aces who practice every morning, take in team meetings, study film and learn systems.
"The guys have been great," Culkin said of his new teammates.
"I got to meet the whole team. It's really different compared to junior hockey. There are guys who are almost into their 40's, but they're all genuinely great people. I've gotten to be really good friends with the black aces, we've been a tight group. We're all there for each other. It's just a learning experience, a new chapter for me and I'm enjoying every second of it."