EDMONTON, Alta. – To finish, Brett Kulak is at home.
The Stony Plain product signed up to a four-year contract on July 13 with the team he grew up encouraging.
“It’s a special feeling. They always had that pull from the start as a home team,” Kulak said. “My experience there to end the season has been so positive, so it’s exciting to be re-signed.”
For the first time in his career, Kulak was able to explore the open waters of NHL Free Agency. The defender was fresh off a strong playoff run with the Oilers where he averaged 17:06 per game on his way to a Western Conference Finals, so there was some demand for him. reliable rear guard. After weighing all of his options, it was determined that Edmonton was the best choice for Kulak’s career and his family.
“You just had to have a chance to enter the market in free agency. The situation I was in was kind of like, let’s see how it is and see what happens and what the day brought,” Kulak said. “There were some things on the table, but the balance of things that I was hoping to get in my next contract in terms of opportunities, a good team and dollar value – the balance of those things was Edmonton and it was a no brainer for my wife and I to move there.”
Video: [email protected]: Kulak shoots into the corner from deep
When Kulak was acquired at the deadline as part of a deal with the Montreal Canadiens, the Oilers were expected to get a steady addition of depth to their backend once the playoffs rolled around. The post-season is a war of attrition and having an experienced defenseman who has the versatility to move up and down the roster has paid huge dividends to head coach Jay Woodcroft and his crew.
One wouldn’t know how valuable the pickup would be until the end of the regular season. In an April 22 game against the Colorado Avalanche, the Oilers’ first-minute defenseman Nurse Darnell suffered a core injury that hampered the defender in the stretch and in the playoffs. Although Nurse dumped significant playoff performance, he lost 3:56 per game in ice time that had to be picked up by the rest of the Oilers defense. It was Kulak who stepped up his game in the critical Stanley Cup playoff period.
The defenseman would finish the Oilers’ postseason series second on the team with a plus-7 differential, leading all Oilers defensemen, while adding five assists in 16 games. Now with 34 games under his belt and the retirement of Duncan Keith, Kulak is looking to harness both success and opportunity to become a fixture on the Oilers’ blue line for the foreseeable future.
Video: [email protected]: Kulak adds to make it 5-1 Oilers
“I’m 28 and feel like I’m entering my prime physically and mentally,” he said. “I feel like I’m really stepping into my game here. At this point I want the opportunity to play a big part in a team, that’s where you have the most fun – when you’re playing big minutes, night in and out and you really contribute to the success of a team. It was a big priority for me to seek free agency.
Outside of hometown ties, the decision to return was made easier by people within the Oilers organization.
“The way the guys brought me into the locker room and Woody and Ken, they were awesome and made the transition easier for me,” Kulak said. “Getting to know the guys over the past few months has been great. When they found out I had quit with the team, I got a lot of text messages and everyone was happy to see me back.”
By retaining Kulak, the Oilers are able to continue their off-season trend of continuity on and off the ice. The organization began by locking down Jay Woodcroft to multi-year extension and follow up with pre-release agency extension postponed to Evander Kane . In addition to the retirement of Duncan Keith and the signing of Jack Campbell, the Oilers’ roster currently remains largely the same as the one that made it to the Western Conference Finals. The continuity of a returning squad and coaching staff helped seal the deal for Kulak’s return.
“It’s always a good feeling to know when I come to training camp and know the system already in place and what we want to do and the style of game we want to play,” he said. . “At the start of the year we know the expectations, we know the standard. We know where we are at this year and it’s good when you bring back familiar guys. Holland getting Kaner back is brilliant, he brought a lot of experience to our team last year. When you don’t have to bring too many different pieces, it gives you a bit of a head start for the season.”
Now that Kulak is officially here for a long time, the biggest question for the Alberta product and former Calgary Flames member is: can he convince the rest of his family to start representing the Blue & Orange?
“Maybe, I don’t know right away, but definitely over the years,” Kulak said. “We expect a lot from the Oilers to make the playoffs long and it always brings new fans on board when you do that stuff. Eventually we’ll have them all on board.”