ANAHEIM, CA -- A six-game stint in the show to start the season was an eye-opener for Calgary Flames defenceman Brett Kulak.
With that experience, and a season of development in Stockton of the American Hockey League, the 22-year-old is looking to make the most of his next shot in the NHL.
“I started up in Calgary here, and when I got sent down, I went down with the mindset that I needed to work on my defensive game and being hard on guys and taking away time and space,” said Kulak, who played 14:55 and had two shots on goal in his return to the Flames in Calgary’s 5-2 win at the Arizona Coyotes on Monday. “I think I went down there and did that. Obviously, I had some ups and downs in Stockon but I think I got better as the season went along. Now I’m happy to be here.”
Kulak was part of the foursome, alongside forwards Derek Grant, Hunter Shinkaruk, and Emile Poirier, airlifted from Stockton to Glendale.
It's his first go-round in Flames gear since being assigned to the minors on Oct. 20.
And Calgary coach Bob Hartley saw an improved blueliner.
“I like his poise, I like his puck control. There’s less panic in his game,” Hartley said. “A young player like Kulak playing on the blueline, there’s tons of responsibilities. I felt that he managed the puck very well, never got in trouble, was aggressive and made smart decisions.”
Kulak’s own scouting report lies close.
“Maturity level in my game and things off the ice, all lead into my game,” he said. “Just the way I can handle some bigger guys now...smarts that come along with the game, positionally and in the defensive zone. I think it’s just a maturing process for me.”
Kulak had to patiently wait to show those traits.
Nearly an entire season.
“Especially in this organization … they pride themselves in that you’ve got to earn everything you get,” Kulak said. “It’s a long process, always. I just went down there, I was working hard, and now that this opportunity came, I’m happy about it.”
Others got the opportunity first.
Jakub Nakladal earned the biggest promotion, jumping from the AHL to NHL and spending 22 games with the Flames. Tyler Wotherspoon also earned a couple of nods to join the big group, amassing 11 games.
No matter, suggested Kulak.
“It’s good but it’s hard sometimes,” he said. “We’re all friends and we all battle hard as a team down there. It’s good to see them go up and then you’ve got to keep hoping and keep working, that your time will come. Usually, if you stick to the right things and do the right things with a positive mindset, it will come.”
Kulak has another six games remaining in Calgary’s schedule to stick, too.
The opportunity isn’t lost on him.
“It’s huge,” he said. “Any time you get NHL games, it’s big for the whole management to see you. It’s an opportunity to prove you can play in this league. I think I’m coming in with that mindset and looking to take advantage of it.”