Contract a dream come true for Kulak
The 20-year-old Calgary Flames prospect signed his first professional contract, a three-year entry level pact that could see the Stony Plain, AB native continue his career in the pro ranks next season.
“It feels really good, like the start of a dream come true I guess,” Kulak told CalgaryFlames.com. “It was really surreal for me in the moment. It’s only sunk in now that I’ll be making money to play the sport I love and grew up playing. The feeling is hard to describe, but it’s definitely a good one.”
The contract comes at the tail end of Kulak’s most productive season with the Vancouver Giants to date. The defenceman set new career benchmarks in goals (14), assists (46), points (60) as well as penalty minutes (51) while leading the Giants into the first round of the playoffs against the defending Western Hockey League champion Portland Winterhawks.
Though there’s still plenty of work left in Vancouver, Kulak already sees his year as one that has featured the most progression from the 6-foot-1, 190-pound blueliner.
“This year I was able to handle the minutes where last year I wasn’t able to do as much and maybe tire myself out at the wrong points of the game,” said Kulak, Calgary’s fourth pick, 105th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. “This year I definitely took advantage and was smart with my ice time and was really good on the power play.
“My training last summer really helped, it helped my skating and my shot and my confidence level has just grown over the past two seasons and grew even more coming into camp when you feel a lot stronger from a good summer of training.”
What also helped, Kulak admitted, was his stint with the Abbotsford Heat last spring.
After signing an amateur try-out following his 2012-13 campaign with Vancouver, Kulak skated in four games with the Flames’ AHL affiliate, giving the then 19-year-old perspective on what it would take to be a pro.
He credits current Flames forward Lance Bouma with showing him the way.
“I watched him a lot and what he does with himself because he was recovering from his knee so he wasn’t playing with the team at the time,” began Kulak. “When I stayed back when I first got there and they were on a road trip and we stayed back and worked out and skated. I saw how dedicated he was all the time. He was always just doing the right things. That was really important.”
Equally important was earning the confidence he could play at the AHL level.
“I thought I was pretty good. I felt pretty comfortable,” Kulak said of his four game audition. “They didn’t just throw me into the fire right away. I had a few weeks of practicing with the team to try to pick up my speed and puck movement to their level. I use my skating ability a lot so that kept me out of trouble. I didn’t feel too overwhelmed, but it’s definitely a bit of a step up from junior.”
He realizes he hasn’t made that jump just yet.
He's equally aware that he’s already beaten the odds, too, and is well on his way.
“I’m sure the percentages go down through every step,” Kulak said. “Percentage of guys who make junior, then it drops a bit for guys who get drafted, then guys who actually get contracts, I’m sure it goes down a lot.
“I really feel fortunate to be a part of that and I’ve earned this contract. I feel like I deserved it. I’ve put in a lot of work, a lot of hard hours and I’m glad to see it pay off.”