Vancouver’s Brett Kulak is a player to watch Friday night
The T-Birds will have to contend with Brett Kulak on Friday (Photo courtesy whl.ca)
By Andrew Eide
When the Seattle Thunderbirds face off in Vancouver against the Giants on Friday they will have to deal with another top end WHL defenseman. The league has become known for highly talented blue-liners who can skate, move the puck and contribute to the offense. For Seattle that guy is Shea Theodore, for Vancouver it’s Brett Kulak.
Kulak is in his second full year with the Giants and impressed the league and scouts in his rookie year by scoring nine goals and 24 points. A lot of guys claim they are two-way players but Kulak’s plus 28 last year proves that it’s more than just talk for him. That output got him drafted in the fourth round of last year’s NHL draft by the Calgary Flames. For every hockey player, that’s a dream come true.
“For me the whole year was in steps,” Kulak said about last year. ” Coming in as a rookie the first step is making the team to start, as I gradually moved on I got more confident and then start thinking about the draft and stuff, it’s your draft year and I got more confident and kept getting better and better and ended up getting drafted at the end of the year.”
Making the jump into the WHL can be tough for some players but Kulak said that as the season moved forward he gained more and more confidence.
“I thought I adjusted well to the changes,” he said of that jump. “I adjusted to the speed and strength changes to the players in this league, so I adjusted well and I figured maybe I can get drafted and see if I can pick up skill level here and keep excelling.”
Kulak is from Stony Plain, Alberta which is about a half-hour drive from Edmonton, home of the Edmonton Oilers of the NHL. Kulak grew up an Oilers fan and now is a prospect for their most bitter rivals in Calgary. What is it like to change allegiances?
“Yeah, growing up I was always an Oilers fan for sure,” he says. “I’ve been getting this question a lot, it seems, I’ve got to say I’m definitely a Flames fan now after getting drafted and being in the organization.”
With the NHL lockout that is in full swing, Kulak, like all of last year’s draftees lost out on the chance to attend the NHL training camp. That usually is a great experience for draft picks to get to play with the pros, see how they compete, how they work.
“I would have liked to have gone there,” Kulak said. “I would have left on the 15th of September to go to Calgary, it would have been nice to feel things out, see the pro guys from the Flames, see how good they are. I got a little taste of it as I got to go to the Flames summer camp. I think there were 12 guys there from their AHL team so I got to see some of those guys to see how hard they play and compete.”
Kulak feels that even getting the exposure in the summer prospect camp gave him tools that he can take into this season with Vancouver and improve his game even more.
“Oh yeah, it showed me how hard I have to work and continue to work to get better and compete at that level,” he said.
Kulak will be easy to spot for T-Birds fans watching on Friday. He is a good skater, takes care of his own end and will help get the Giants offense moving. Most young hockey players have a guy they try to pattern their game after and for Kulak that’s no different.
“I like to watch Duncan Keith,” Kulak says. “He’s my favorite player, I think we’re similar, we both play a two-way game and he’s good defensively and contributes offensively.”
Kulak is not content with his season last year, he is still looking to improve and become a more complete player.
“I think this year the biggest thing for me is developing puck skills, work on my physical strength most importantly,” he said. “From a point side of it my goal is to top 50 points.”
The Giants go into Friday’s game with a 2-5-0-0 record which is not where they hoped to be this early in the season. The good news it that the season is still young and they have time to get headed in the right direction.
“I think the team is starting to gel together and buy into Don’s (Hay) system,” Kulak says of his team. “He’s teaching us a lot of new stuff in practice and I think once everyone learns how to play in the system we’ll be good.”
Vancouver is a hockey crazed city. The region turns out a lot of good hockey players, the NHL’s Canucks are wildly popular as well as the Giants. For guys playing in the WHL, playing in a market like Vancouver has to be fun and a pleasure.
“Yeah, it’s great,” Kulak says of Vancouver. “With the lockout this year there’s no Canucks so there are a lot of Canucks fans who are missing hockey, so we plan on getting all those fans out to see some hockey. It’s a great organization and great coaches and I couldn’t be happier.”
Follow Andrew on twitter @andyeide