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FRUITS OF HIS LABOUR

Kulak has made the most of his chance since being called up from the farm - and he's enjoying every moment of it

by ARI YANOVER @NHLFlames / calgaryflames.com

Patience is a virtue, as the old saying goes.

And like most prospects, Brett Kulak has displayed plenty of it during his long and winding road to the game's highest level.

Having played eight games since being called up by the Flames this season, the blueliner is looking more and more at home in the NHL.

He now has six assists to his name and carries a 52.63% Corsi-for on the season, according to Natural Stat Trick - the third highest among regular Flames defencemen.

He collected a pair of helpers in the Flames 6-3 win over Detroit Thursday at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

"He can move the puck and skate," coach Glen Gulutzan said of his young blueliner. "And we want to be a skating defence, and he can certainly do that. … So (he's) added to our team."

Kulak is thriving in his current role: providing support to a top-four defensive group he considers the best in the NHL.

"When I'm called on to go out there for my ice time, it's just to kind of help those guys, give them the rest, and also contribute to the team," Kulak said.

"I think it's just … being my best every time I step on the ice."

Drafted by the Flames in the fourth round, 105th overall, back in 2012, Kulak showed great promise in the WHL. His first professional season was split between the ECHL's Colorado Eagles and AHL's Adirondack Flames, not to mention his NHL debut for the Flames in Game 82 of that year.

Since then, he's bounced back and forth between the AHL - he's also played in Abbotsford and Stockton - and the NHL, where he now has 38 total games under his belt.

"It's been crazy," Kulak said. "It's not easy to do, when you're bouncing around different cities, and you're up and down, you don't know where you'll be in the next week.

"The past few years have definitely been a roller-coaster ride, and I'm pretty grateful for it. I've learned so much along the way.

"I'm happy where I am now, but I just want to keep… It's motivating, you know. I've seen where I've come from, where I've got to, and now I want to see how good I can become in this league."

According to Gulutzan, Kulak's emergence has come by design.

"I think it's a natural progression for a young player, a young defenceman," he said. "I think it's one of the best things we did last year with Brett Kulak, was played him 20-something games here and then had him play … in the minors. That's how, usually, these guys break in. Sometimes they end up going up and down for a couple years, but eventually they get themselves a spot.

"When you put people at the right level, it's not anything different than … matching players against the right lines in a game. You put them at the right level where every level they succeed, and they can grow.

"With his perseverance, his personality, I think that, combined with the fact that we rode a pretty good development model with him … I think Brett deserves the credit, but certainly the way Tre and the guys planned it out for him, certainly helped."

Kulak has also found perspective over the course of his journey.

"I'm not where I want to be," Kulak said. "I don't know if I ever will be. I'll always keep chasing something, trying to be better.

"I think a couple of the most important things I've learned is no one's going to hold your hand through the whole process. If you want to make it to the NHL, you've got to bring your good work ethic every day, and you've got to earn it every single day.

"And then another thing … is just no matter where you are, you gotta keep the goal in mind, and you can never get too down on yourself. It's hard at times, when I remember being down on the east coast, and I was just thinking like how far I got to go to the NHL.

"You just gotta take it a day at a time or a week at a time, and then just keep building off success and don't dwell on your failures."

Kulak's journey is far from over, and he knows it. He's still looking to cement his spot in the lineup, score that first goal, and - most importantly - continue to help his team win.

"Everyone's different, everyone kind of comes with their own background, their own story," Kulak said. "But I mean… I'm happy with everything I've kinda went through."

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