I think every year I just get better mentally and physically. It’s just a matter of time. It’s all going to work out. It’s going to come together ... I’m going to be a full-timer. - Brett Kulak
CALGARY, AB -- Brett Kulak isn’t sitting by his phone waiting for a push notification awaiting any potential signings.
Not refreshing Twitter to see if any news is coming that might affect his standing with the team.
Not focusing on anything external.
“If you get caught up focusing on what everyone else is doing … there’s so many players … if you’re focusing on them instead of yourself you’re not going to be improving as much as you can be,” the 22-year-old Calgary Flames hopeful said.
“You see that stuff. You see the guys come and go. It’s your job. Hockey is my life. You take pride in it and you want to do your studies and homework so you know where you stand.”
No one is more curious to see where he stands come training camp this fall than Kulak.
Not after a rollercoaster 2015-16 campaign that saw the 22-year-old start the season with the Flames, slump with Stockton of the American Hockey League, and rebound to nab a one-game return to the National Hockey League and earn defensive player of the year honours with Calgary’s minor-league affiliate by season’s end.
“It’s what you work for your whole life, especially that summer leading up to it,” Kulak said. “You focus on that moment … training camp … that’s your goal to make opening night. When that happened I was feeling really good about myself. I felt confident in my game. They were giving me opportunity in the preseason. I had a good sense and a good belief it could happen.”
The audition came to an end six games into the season, when a dip in play coincided with injured defencemen Ladislav Smid and TJ Brodie returning to health.
Kulak was assigned down to Stockton as a result.
From opening night theatrics at Scotiabank Saddledome to bus rides from Stockton.
From battling Alexander Ovechkin and Connor McDavid on a nightly basis to reworking his game in the AHL.
“That’s just the way it works. I could sense it,” Kulak started.
“I came in and had a good couple first games. I knew my game started to drop off a bit. I got in my own head. A big part of the game for me is the mental side. I could sense my play dropping off. It’s the NHL … you have to be on top of your game, especially as a young defenceman. You have to prove yourself every night. It was best for me to go back to the AHL.”
A self-admitted slump followed soon thereafter.
“I wasn’t playing how I wanted to play and I’d get down on myself,” he said. “It snowballed. I just had to sit back and re-evaluate things and reset. I’m where I am now. I just have to start working to get back to where I want to be. I slowly started working harder and started to improve and I found my game again.”
The rebound wasn’t a small one.
Kulak, who finished with three goals and 17 points in 59 games, was tabbed as Stockton’s top defensive player in a season-ending awards ceremony.
It offered a reaffirmation that Kulak, a fourth round pick (No. 105) in the 2012 NHL Draft, continues to knock on the door of the NHL.
He’s close, he feels.
“I think every year I just get better mentally and physically,” Kulak said. “It’s just a matter of time. It’s all going to work out. It’s going to come together.
“I’m going to be a full-timer.”
There’s no set timeline though.
No drop-dead date.
Just the will to get there.
And no focus on who might stand in the way.
“I don’t set a specific timeline, but I set short-term, long-term goals for myself and work at those,” he said. “Eventually it’ll all piece together.
“I don’t look at guys that I’m competing with necessarily for a spot. I’m looking at guys who are above me and who can make me better.”