Ryan Culkin was close.
Oh so close.
Until a close call -- sliced tendons in his wrist in a February 2015 game with the Adirondack Flames of the American Hockey League -- ended his 2014-15 campaign.
Just short of earning a call-up to the Calgary Flames.
Long on a rehabilitation process.
And when he was set to start the 2015-16 season with a clean slate, injury struck again. Culkin was felled by a shoulder injury at the Young Stars Classic in September that pushed his return to regular season action into mid-November.
So when Culkin finished this year with 27 AHL games as a member of the Stockton Heat, following 33 with the Adirondack Flames of the ECHL, the season was a win.
“It was tremendous,” Culkin said. “I was obviously unfortunate my first pro (season) … my wrist injury and started off with a shoulder injury. I was kind of satisfied, happy that there was no injuries … knock on wood … at the end of the season. I want to build off that and come in next year and have a bigger role and be better.”
Build towards where he was prior to the run of bad luck, too.
Culkin, a fifth round pick (No. 124) in the 2012 NHL Draft, was knocking on the door of his first game with the Flames when the skate of a Utica Comets forward cut tendons in his wrist.
But even as hopeful as the 22-year-old was following surgery, any optimism was derailed because of his buggered shoulder.
That recall gave way to one instead that saw Culkin jump from the ECHL to AHL, and helped turn around a trying start to his season.
“I think it was kind of difficult for me,” Culkin said. “I didn’t start the way I wanted to start down in the East Coast. It was challenging … not good for my confidence. I think when I came back up I was slowly getting better and better and I ended on a positive note.”
Even the 6-foot-2, 195-pound defenceman agreed starting back in Adirondack following the run of injuries was the right call, though.
With a logjam on the blueline in Stockton, a start in Adirondack helped give Culkin some much-needed minutes.
And, eventually, some much-needed confidence.
“Mentally, obviously, it’s tough going down,” Culkin said. “I think it was the right move for me. I needed to play hockey. I hadn’t played hockey for eight months. Playing competitive hockey down there … I met a great group of guys. Definitely playing down there helped because I’m here to play hockey. I hadn’t played hockey in so long.
“It definitely helped a lot.”
It gave him self-assurance, in the wrist, shoulder, and mind.
It gave him ample opportunity to play after being sidelined for nine months.
It’s given him a chance to reset again this summer, too.
“I’m going to be taking a week off, two weeks off, and then hitting it hard,” Culkin said. “I want to get bigger and stronger. It is a big summer coming up with the last year on my contract. It’s the most important one. I really want to push hard and show I’m capable of playing.
“I want to build on that in the offseason … just get bigger and stronger and come back with a bit of a chip on my shoulder and show what I can do.”