Brett Kulak showed some signs of offensive talent after being brought up by the Habs last November. Does that make him a possible sleeper for 2019-20 as he enters his first full season with the team?
For me, his season started back in the 2018 summer when he cleared waivers in advance of his arbitration hearing. That paved the way for the Flames to be comfortable running him through there again after the preseason and also opened up the window for him to be traded to Montreal. As Marc Bergevin likes to do, he swung a deal right before the season started in exchange for AHL defenders Matt Taormina and Rinat Valiev to get Kulak into the system although they sent him to Laval to start.
His time with the Rocket allowed him to get plenty of ice time and play in all situations, something that hadn’t been the case with Calgary where he was a low-minute third pairing option. He fared quite well in that role and when Montreal’s back end started to struggle in November, he was given an opportunity and never really looked back.
While he was among the group of players to be tried alongside Shea Weber, Kulak ultimately settled in to form a good pairing alongside Jeff Petry. His usage ticked up down the stretch as well when the games mattered the most; over the final 15 contests, he averaged a little over 20 minutes a night. All in all, he logged nearly five minutes a night more on average than he did with the Flames and in the process, earned himself a three-year deal not long after the season ended.
Season Stats: 57 GP, 6 goals, 11 assists, 17 points, +12 rating, 31 PIMS, 0 PPG, 3 GWG, 102 shots, 17:51 ATOI, 56.3 CF%
2 Year Averages
Kulak has seen at least one NHL game over the past five seasons but only his last two have seen him play with any sort of regularity.
While there is a justifiable temptation to keep Kulak and Petry paired up, it’s far from a guarantee that it will happen. While they gave Kulak a three-year deal this summer, they also gave a three-year pact to Ben Chiarot at nearly double the money. Clearly, they envision him fitting into a top-four role. Chiarot wouldn’t fit well with Shea Weber so it’s quite possible that he winds up with Petry to start.
That would then have Kulak and Victor Mete vying for the spot alongside Weber and Mete would seemingly have the upper hand in that battle. As a result, Kulak could find himself alongside one of Christian Folin, Noah Juulsen, or Mike Reilly (on his off side) to start the season.
On the special teams front, Kulak probably won’t have too much of a role. He saw limited action shorthanded and even less on the power play which is something that surprised me a little bit considering his offensive skill set.
Kulak was a bit of a coin flip to get his own article in this series because he’s right on the fringe of being a viable end-of-roster defender in deep leagues. If you extrapolate his point production from last year over a full season, you’re looking at a 24-point defender. Then you look at his usage down the stretch last year and think there’s some potential upside.
But Chiarot’s presence complicates things. If he winds up alongside Petry, Kulak likely drops to the third pairing where a lot of that upside will go out the window. In that instance, he’s a waiver wire player in pretty much all formats.
However, let’s look at the glass half-full scenario which is the fantasy-relevant one. If he’s back with Petry and hangs around the 18-20 minute mark, 20-plus points is certainly possible. The extra ice time could have him hovering around the 100 block mark. He should easily be able to get to 100 shots again over a full season. And wouldn’t you know it, his hit per game mark from last year wasn’t far off from 100 and a full year of Bell Centre statisticians could easily push him into that triple-100 club that doesn’t have a lot of card-carrying members. All of a sudden, he goes from a fringe guy to a very useful depth option in a hurry, one that has value in a few different formats. There’s some bust potential if he gets the 16-minute role on the third pairing but if he’s in the top four, he’s one of the better sleepers on Montreal’s roster. If you have a late draft, keep a close eye on where Kulak projects to slot in.