NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire often calls his groups' ranking lists a road map for teams to follow during the season. This season, no player got down the road faster from January's midterm release to April's final rankings than Kelowna Rockets right wing Brett Bulmer
The 6-foot-2, 175-pound forward had just 6 goals and 17 points in his first 30 games. But after the winter holidays, he turned his game around and finished with 7 goals and 23 points in his last 35 games. Bulmer kept the good play going into the postseason, when he had 3 goals and 5 points in 12 playoff games.
That second-half performance moved him from the No. 164 on Central Scouting's midterm ranking to No. 65 in the final ranking of North American skaters for the 2010 Entry Draft, June 25-26 in Los Angeles.
"After the World Junior break it seemed the light went on and he realized his potential and got it," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told NHL.com. "He became much more physical and involved in the play. He used his size and speed, and his positioning was greatly improved. His puck awareness was much sharper and he learned to play with his linemates. He always had nice hands and puckhandling ability. He was rewarded with special-teams play and became one of their leaders in the second half and playoffs. He learned to do his job on the ice, which translates into a nice pro-style game. He showed that he could adapt and elevate his play on a nightly basis. He could be a nice sleeper pick."
So what changed?
"I think just getting more confident, growing as a player," Bulmer told NHL.com. "I just got a more complete game going. I felt like I was playing harder."
So no great "Eureka!" moment or recovery from an early injury?
"Just learning the league," Bulmer said.
Bulmer isn't the kind of person who gives expansive answers. He'd rather let his play speak for him -- and with the kind of season he had, that was more than enough.
"He doesn't say a lot," Kelowna coach Ryan Huska
told NHL.com. "When we talk to him, it's yes or no, and then he applies what we tell him. He's a quiet kid. He's got that confidence, and he doesn't say very much."
Huska watched as Bulmer went around the Western Hockey League, and said what he saw was a player who finally figured out what he needed to do to be successful, and then doing it.
"It was him understanding what it takes to play at this level and how to become someone that's getting ready to be a professional hockey player," Huska said. "I think he just started to get an idea of how he had to play to get noticed. Once he got comfortable in that style after Christmas, his play really took off."
Bulmer always seems to have been a bit of a late bloomer. He said he didn't hit his big growth spurt until he was 14 or 15. However, as he grew, he sprouted a chip on his shoulder.
"He learned to do his job on the ice, which translates into a nice pro-style game. He showed that he could adapt and elevate his play on a nightly basis. He could be a nice sleeper pick."
-- B.J. MacDonald, NHL Central Scouting
"I've just always been self-motivated," Bulmer said. "I wanted to prove everyone wrong."
Part of that comes from being cut from a few teams growing up because he wasn't big enough. Bulmer was cut from his bantam team the first time he tried out for that reason; last season, the first time he tried out for the Rockets, he was sent back to midget.
"We sent him back when he was 16," Huska said. "We didn't think he was ready mentally or physically to play in our league. There were a few times we brought him up, and he played well, but he came back (this season) and was set on proving us wrong. I don't think there's anything wrong with a kid being upset he was sent home. Just makes him work hard to achieve that much more."
Huska believes the next level of that hard work is simplifying Bulmer’s game.
"He's got great skill for a big man," he said. "He seems to have the ability to make a defender think he's going one way he goes another and he does it pretty gracefully. His skill with the puck is definitely a strength of his. His ability to find the open man on the ice is another one. Sometimes that gets him into trouble.
"I think sometimes he tries to do things a little too fancy. Sometimes in minor hockey you can stickhandle around two or three guys, but you can't do that at our level. You have to be able to use people around you and you have to dump pucks in and chase them. Those are the things he has to improve on. If he's willing to do that, he'll be just fine."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com