CALGARY, AB -- When Ryan Culkin hit the ice at the 2012 Calgary Flames development camp, the first thing you noticed was his size.
Or lack thereof.
The blueliner, who stood around 6-feet at the time, had a frame that could best be described as lanky, weighing in at 176-pounds.
When going up against a larger forward in the corners or along the boards, Culkin wasn't winning the majority of his puck battles due to his size. The Flames 2012 fifth round pick had the skill set to play a great two-way game against smaller competition but struggled when pitted against players who had a leg up in the strength department.
So, after the week-long camp came to close, Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster lauded the young rearguard on his work ethic but gave him some advice.
"One of the things we told him was, 'You have to get bigger. You have to get stronger.' He did that," Feaster told Sportsnet 960 The Fan on Wednesday afternoon. "We were all in watching him prior to the season resuming at the NHL level during the work stoppage.
"Really, even from December until coming into this summer's development camp in July at WinSport, he did get bigger."
Culkin's work in the weight room has paid off. The Montreal, QC native logged a ton of minutes under former Quebec Remparts head coach Patrick Roy's watch, registered career-highs in assists (40), points (45) and plus/minus (+28), and, as his 46 PIM show, had a more physical edge to his game.
His development was also evident at the 2013 Flames development camp. He put on over 10 pounds of muscle and grew an inch since last summer's fitness testing sessions. He was step ahead of his competition in game-like situations and scrimmages, looked more more confident than he did last summer and was consistent, day-in and day-out.
Calgary hockey operations members were extremely impressed with Culkin's play and his progression has pushed them to question whether or not he should go back to the QMJHL for his overage year. His performance at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton next month will play a big role in what his 2013-14 season will look like.
"We informed him that if you play at that same level in Penticton, you may just earn yourself an NHL two-way (deal)," Feaster noted.
"This is another chance for him to step up and show that he doesn't need to go back and play an overage year - (that) he's better served signing as a pro and going into Abbotsford."
The 2013 Young Stars Classic takes place Sept. 5-9 in Penticton, BC. Tournament ticket packages, which include a ticket to eight tournament games, are $70 plus applicable fees. Tickets are available online at www.valleyfirsttix.com, by phone at 1-877-763-2849, or in person at the Valley First Box Office at the South Okanagan Events Centre or at Penticton & Wine Country Visitor Centre.
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